The House Armed Services Committee intends to closely monitor how the Department of Defense implements the space management overhaul recently mandated by Congress, the panel’s chairman said Jan. 16.

The committee wants to ensure that the reorganization gives space the increased attention it needs and assigns more accountability to space decision-makers, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee

“Those of us who have received the classified briefings are increasingly concerned about the country’s ability to depend on space for our daily life,” Thornberry told the Defense Writers Group. “A lot of people are going to be watching very carefully to see whether, under what we have passed, space receives the priority that it should. If [it does] not, we can go back and do some other options.”

The fiscal year 2018 defense authorization act, which President Donald Trump signed into law in December, stopped short of adopting a controversial House proposal to create a space corps in the Air Force Department (Defense Daily, Nov. 8). But it calls for ending the Air Force secretary’s role as DoD’s principal space adviser, and directs the deputy secretary of defense to assign that job to someone else.

The new law also makes Air Force Space Command the sole authority for organizing, training and equipping all Air Force space forces, and scraps the Air Force’s newly created space operations directorate. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Jan. 5 that the service is mulling how to do away with the directorate while still performing the work the entity was set up to handle (Defense Daily, Jan. 5).

Thornberry said his committee also will scrutinize the recent launch of the classified Zuma spacecraft on a SpaceX rocket. While SpaceX has insisted that its Falcon 9 rocket “did everything correctly” in its Jan. 7 launch, congressional aides have been told that the Zuma mission was unsuccessful (Defense Daily, Jan. 9).

“It is essential … that we have assured access to space, and so we’ll be pursuing what happened and why,” he said.

Northrop Grumman [NOC] built Zuma for an undisclosed U.S. government agency.

In other comments, Thornberry said he expects to receive a briefing this week on DoD’s new national defense strategy. With the Pentagon slated to unveil an unclassified version Jan. 19, Thornberry expressed hope that the document will be “very explicit” about how much money the Pentagon needs to carry out the strategy.

“If Congress does not step up and provide the budget required to implement a strategy, then the [Trump] administration’s going to have to say, ‘Okay, you made this call, we can’t do these things,’” he said. “There have to be consequences to failing to adequately resource our military.”

Thornberry also looks forward to receiving the results of the administration’s nuclear posture review, including whether it calls for fielding any new capabilities.

“There is some pretty deep expertise on our committee on both the weapons and the delivery systems, and we will be deep into the weeds on both aspects of that,” he said.

Thornberry declined to say whether he will support another continuing resolution (CR) when the current one runs out Jan. 19. But he said he is “increasingly disturbed” that some of his colleagues are willing to block long-term defense funding to gain leverage in negotiations on non-defense matters, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program.

“If your sister or brother is a pilot who needs to be training for a major military engagement on the Korean Peninsula, you are telling that person, ‘You can’t have the training you need, you can’t have the planes fixed until we get a DACA deal,’” he said. “Now how could that possibly be right?”