A new independent report released Monday asserts that it will take between $1.5 billion and $2.7 billion over five years to stand up some variation of a separate military branch dedicated to space, assuming the intelligence community is not included.

Three potential scenarios for a new space-related military branch are laid out in the report, titled, “How Much Will the Space Force Cost?” and written by Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project and defense budget analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

Falcon Heavy lifts off from Florida during its first flight Feb. 6, 2018. (Photo: SpaceX)
Falcon Heavy lifts off from Florida during its first flight Feb. 6, 2018. (Photo: SpaceX)

The most inexpensive option included is a Space Corps that is part of the Air Force, as has been championed by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee. It would require about 1,700 additional personnel for headquarters staff and other positions, and cost about about $11.3 billion per year in fiscal year 2019 dollars, including $0.3 billion in new funding, the report said.

“Space Force-Lite” would be a “limited but independent” department that includes all Air Force space assets, plus the Army 1st Space Brigade, the Navy Program Executive Office Space Systems and the Navy Satellite Operations Center — all housed at their current facilities — and an additional 2,600 personnel for a total annual cost of $13.4 billion, with $0.4 billion in new funding.

The third option, dubbed “Space Force-Heavy,” would include all of Space Force-Lite, plus the Army’s 100th Missile Defense Brigade, a small contingent of personnel working on satellite communications at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and part of the Missile Defense Agency portfolio related to space situational awareness technologies and mid-course intercept capabilities. An additional 3,100 personnel would be required, per the report, and this iteration could cost around $21.5 billion per year, with $0.5 billion in new funding.

Each scenario factors in the cost of required military and civilian personnel, military construction fees, research and development and procurement funding, recruitment and training costs, operations and maintenance fees, and headquarters/secretariat staff costs.   

Assuming that the majority of any new Space Force budget will be pulled from existing space programs and operations within DoD, the new department could cost between $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion in new funding over the next five years, Harrison said.

That number is much smaller than the projected cost laid out by the Air Force in a reported memo in September, which claimed it would cost the Pentagon $13 billion over the next five years to stand up a new Space Force, along with the new U.S. Space Command and Space Development Agency (SDA).

Harrison noted in a Monday briefing with reporters at CSIS that his budget forecast does not include funds to set up a new combatant command or the SDA, nor does it factor in the cost of potentially including intelligence agencies such as the National Reconnaissance Office, as its budget numbers are classified. Adding the NRO portfolio to the Space Force and other IC capabilities would certainly increase the funding levels, he added.

To compare to current branch statistics, the Space Force-Heavy version is about the size of the Coast Guard in terms of workforce, but the funding would be nearly double that dedicated to the Coast Guard, Harrison said.  

The Pentagon is expected to release its legislative proposal to Congress in February, the details of which remain unknown. But it’s likely the Pentagon’s proposal will fit somewhere between Space Force-Lite and Space Force-Heavy, he said. Last week, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters the cost is likely to come in under $10 billion per year, and could possibly be “less than five” billion dollars. (Defense Daily, Nov. 13)

Based on his assessment, the cost to stand up a new branch is equivalent to “a handful of F-35s,” Harrison told reporters. It’s unlikely that the budget numbers will ultimately be cause of much concern to lawmakers, who will have to decide “if and when” to create a Space Force based on the mission need they perceive, he added.

Whether Congress votes to stand up a sixth military branch dedicated to space is “a coin toss” at this point, Harrison said, and it will be up to senior DoD leadership to sell it as a needed change supported by the department, rather than just “Trump’s Space Force,” he said.