The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has approved the development of a new Space Force under the Air Force in its fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) markup, but put steps in place to ensure the sixth military branch is rolled out without excess red tape.

The committee points to the requirements laid out in the 2018 National Defense Strategy and calls for “a cohesive strategy” to protect U.S. capabilities and assets in space in an executive summary released May 23.

Low angled view of the U.S. Capitol East Facade Front in Washington, DC.

Members have authorized $72.5 million in FY ’20 to assist with the initial standup of the Space Force, reflecting the presidential budget request, senior committee aides told reporters Thursday.

The summary lays out several measures SASC requests to avoid added bureaucracy and cost during the branch buildup.

It specifically places the Space Force under the Air Force, and redesignates the current “Principal Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force for Space” – a role served by John Stopher since April 2018 – as the “Principal Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration” as an effort to address key acquisition concerns in the DoD’s space domain.

The goal is to apply similar rapid acquisition processes that the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) employs to procure space equipment.

“We did the best we could … to duplicate the magic sauce of the NRO,” a senior committee aide said with regard to the SASC mark’s efforts to improve space acquisition. However, the bill does not seek to eventually shift NRO assets to the Space Force, a move that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has expressed as a possibility.

Lawmakers also want to redesignate the Air Force Space Command leader as the leader of the U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM). Air Force Space Command Commander Gen. John Raymond has been nominated to lead the new combatant command (Defense Daily, March 28).

A senior committee aide said the bill’s language does not impact Raymond’s nomination, and a nomination hearing to be held in early June to consider his position as well as that of the proposed new National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) director, Chris Scolese.

In the first year after a Space Force is established, that Space Command/Space Force commander would report through the chief of staff of the Air Force to the secretary before reporting directly to the service secretary. The commander would also have to wait a year before becoming a permanent member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but would be invited for JCS sessions on space domain and space-related topics.

“We want to take a measured approach” to the Space Force buildup, a senior committee aide said. Officials will have to report back to the committee every month with progress reports.

The bill designates the commander of the future U.S. Space Force to also serve as the commander of U.S. Space Command for one year before the two positions are separated into two four-star positions. Lawmakers from both the House and the Senate have expressed concern about the number of new military brass positions a new Space Force could create.

SASC members also voted to prohibit adding additional military or civilian personnel to the Space Force, and says the use of existing personnel within the Air Force will be used to establish the new military branch. Senior committee aides did not rule out Navy and Army personnel being added later in the process, but told reporters for the current plan, only Air Force personnel would be transferred.

“It does put it on a path” to add other service personnel later, the aide said. “You just can’t do everything right away.”

Finally, lawmakers also want to establish a new Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy position, which would sit within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The NDAA mark does not create a new Undersecretary position for space that would report to the Air Force secretary, a difference from the Pentagon’s proposed legislation released in February.

The SASC’s NDAA mark also stands in opposition to a likely House Armed Services Committee (HASC) bill on the Air Force’s launch service procurement (LSP) program. Senate authorizers prohibited any changes to the LSP Phase 2 “to ensure agile and effective space launch support to the warfighter.” HASC Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has previously expressed concerns that the service’s procurement plan could be undermining “fair and open competition” by moving too quickly as bidders mature their new launch vehicles (Defense Daily, March 29).

On certain issues, such as how the Senate Armed Services Committee would address the mission scope of a new Space Development Agency (SDA), aides referred reporters to the forthcoming bill report, which has yet to be released.

The SASC mark’s measured approach to standing up a Space Force could meet some pushback in the lower chamber. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) has yet to conduct its markup sessions for the FY ’20 NDAA. The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) took a more measured approach to the Space Force in its FY ’20 defense appropriations bill, where it allocated $15 million in operations and maintenance funds for the Pentagon “to study and refine plans for the potential establishment of a Space Force as a branch of the Armed Forces” (Defense Daily, May 14).

But the HAC bill, which passed out of committee May 21, emphasizes that those funds should not be construed “to authorize the establishment of a Space Force.”