The Defense Department is planning to push a plan to implement a new Space Force under the umbrella of the Air Force, according to a draft proposal currently working its way through Pentagon leadership.

The legislative proposal, which was viewed by Defense Daily on Dec. 20, states that a United States Space Force would be established “as an armed force within the Department of the Air Force,” and lays out details for how the force would be organized, as well as a tentative transition timeline. It does not currently include estimates for how much it would cost to build up the new force.

The Air Force and ULA launch WGS-9 on March 18 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Photo: ULA.

“The Space Force shall be organized, trained and equipped to provide for freedom of operations in, from and to the space domain for the United States and its allies,” the proposal states.

The service would be led by a civilian “undersecretary of the Air Force for the Space Force,” and a Space Force chief of staff with a seat at the table of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to the draft. The undersecretary – who would also be known as the secretary of the Space Force – would remain subordinate to the secretary of the Air Force.

The Space Force would include both active-duty and reserve personnel, and includes “both combat and combat support functions to enable prompt and sustained offensive and defensive space operations and joint operations in all domains.”

The draft proposal includes a transition period of five years to stand up the Space Force, though the secretary of defense could extend that period for two more years if it is deemed necessary. It also allows the secretary of defense to assign Air Force commissioned officers to provide professional functions – such as medical professionals or chaplains – to the Space Force.

A Defense Department official familiar with deliberations but not authorized to speak on the record told Defense Daily that as of Dec. 19, Pentagon leaders, including service secretaries, have seen the draft, and that there is general consensus across the department that the Space Force should be housed within the Air Force.

Once Pentagon leaders have signed off on the draft, it will go next to the Office of Management and Budget, the official said.

The proposal differs from how President Trump has described his coveted Space Force: Where he has called for a sixth service that would be “separate but equal” from the Air Force, this more closely resembles the relationship between the Navy and the Marine Corps, and mimics a proposal long championed by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee.

Defense One first reported in November that the Pentagon was developing several options for a new Space Force, and that one option would be to stand up a new organization under the Air Force.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters on Wednesday that the department was on “final approach” to complete the Space Force proposal, which the Pentagon intends to submit to Congress early next year. Lawmakers must sign off on the proposal before any type of Space Force is established.

Army Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino, a spokesman for Shanahan, said in an email Thursday that “the Department is moving forward with a legislative proposal” but did not confirm any details in the draft proposal. He added that the Pentagon will have more to say about the proposal “in the coming weeks.” 

Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation and a former Air Force officer working in space operations, said this new proposal is “the most sensible option that accomplishes the intent of giving space a separate set of authorities and developing a unique culture while also not imposing a lot of new overhead” in an email Thursday.

But Weeden, who has been openly skeptical about standing up a Space Force as a sixth military branch, also noted that the organizational changes by themselves will not solve the current challenges related to national security space. “They only create the environment in which change is hopefully possible,” he said. 

A new Space Force organized under the Air Force could plausibly cost $0.3 billion in new funding, and about $11.3 billion per year in fiscal year 2019 dollars, Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in a November report titled, “How Much Will the Space Force Cost?”

Using the example of Rogers’ proposed Space Corps, Harrison said it would require about 1,700 additional personnel for headquarters staff and other positions, but would require much less overhead and funding than any effort to create a separate Space Force branch (Defense Daily, Nov. 19).

On Tuesday, Trump directed the Defense Department to begin the process of standing up U.S. Space Command, a unified combatant command led by a four-star general (Defense Daily, Dec. 18). The intent at this point is to establish USSPACECOM by 2020, although most details, such as a headquarters location, remain unclear. The Defense Department official told Defense Daily on Thursday that the current proposal would keep Air Force Space Command in place while standing up U.S. Space Command.

The draft legislation does not outline how such a new Space Force under the Department of the Air Force would interact with a new USSPACECOM, nor with a Space Development Agency that has been proposed to help rapidly develop and procure new space capabilities (Defense Daily, Aug. 9).