The Pentagon is putting all the building blocks in place to help fulfill President Trump’s vision of a future Space Force, but stakeholders need to fully comprehend the resources that will be required to stand up a new service branch, the Defense Department’s number-two general said Aug. 10.
Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said he supports the Trump administration’s push to develop a sixth military branch dedicated to space, but “I don’t want to underplay the complexity of what they have asked us to do,” he added at a Mitchell Institute breakfast event in Washington, D.C.
The Defense Department’s final report to Congress, released Aug. 9, describes a path forward for the U.S. military to streamline its space enterprise ahead of any congressional decision on a full-blown Space Force. (Aug. 9, Defense Daily)
Among the proposals include the establishment of a new space development agency to rapidly build and field key assets, the creation of a new Space Operations Force that could provide expertise and deploy quickly, similar to Special Operations Forces; prepare a legislative proposal detailing the services and support structures required to stand up a new military branch; and the establishment of a new combatant command dubbed U.S. Space Command, headed by a four-star flag officer.
The report “lays the foundation for the establishment of a Space Force, but it does not assume it,” Selva said. But the steps will help the U.S. military keep ahead of any asymmetric threats that could come from potential adversaries like Russia and China, he added.
“This is about a great power competition. It’s about a competition for access, it’s about a competition for resources, about a competition for economic power and strength. And if space becomes an asymmetric approach to compete, then we have to be ready to address it,” he said.
The proposals are meant to improve the Pentagon’s “rather ossified acquisition process,” he added. “I am on the record as saying every attempt at acquisition reform in my military career has simply resulted in us going slower, so if we could find a way to go faster, we need to.”
A space development agency of some sort will be critical to helping the U.S. military move faster and safeguard key assets, Selva said.
Many space systems were built in a different era, and developers could not have imagined how they would be used in the future, he noted.
“When we built GPS, we didn’t envision that all of you would be wearing or carrying a device that was linked to it,” he said.
Systems engineering will be critical in any future space architecture, he added. “We cannot build space systems in isolation from one another across the entire space enterprise.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said at an Aug. 9 media roundtable that the department is looking to “carve out” existing resources within offices such as the Space and Missile Systems Center – which currently handles about 85 percent of the Pentagon’s space acquisition – and the National Reconnaissance Office to build the proposed space development agency. He did not reveal a timeline or how those offices would be affected by this move.
Selva reiterated prior calls from senior Pentagon leadership, including U.S. Strategic Command Commander Air Force Gen. John Hyten, for the Defense Department to improve its ability to pursue innovative space solutions from the commercial sector.
“It’s not enough to just build elegant military constellations anymore. If a commercial company can build a satellite for $10 million and launch it for a million and a half and proposes to build 500 of them, we need to figure how to hitch a ride,” he said.
Standardizing the space personnel currently spread across the five services is also important, as the servicemembers working in the space domain are shared assets, he noted. “If you’re going to have a secretary who’s responsible to organize, train and equip, provide the facilities for a Space Force that’s going to defend our space constellations and grow the human capital that we need … I think we ought to be wide-eyed about the kind of resources that you’re going to have to give that person and that staff.”
The cost of building a Space Force remains unclear, but Shanahan told reporters that it could cost “billions.” Selva pushed back on reports quoting White House administration officials that the effort would be resource or budget-neutral.
“In my opinion, … having done this for 39 years, standing up new organizations is generally not resource-neutral. And if any of you have witnessed one that absolutely is, come tell me,” he said. “We will put all the building blocks in place, we will give the president the legislative proposal he’s asked for and we’ll advocate for it when the congressional debate starts. But I think we need to be wide-eyed about what this really means, so I’m trying to be as pragmatic as I can.”