The Pentagon’s latest budget estimate for standing up a new separate Space Force could be less than $10 billion, the department’s number-two civilian told reporters Nov. 15.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said at the Pentagon that the current budget estimate is “a single digit, not a double digit” in billions of dollars, adding “it could be lower than five” billion dollars.

Deputy Secretary of Defense (DSD) Patrick M. Shanahan speaks to Keystone class 18-1 at the Pentagon, March 13, 2018. Keystone educates Command Senior Enlisted Leaders serving in or slated to serve in general or flag officer level joint or service headquarters. DSD Shanahan spoke about the Secretary’s lines of effort for the department. (DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann)
Deputy Secretary of Defense (DSD) Patrick M. Shanahan speaks to Keystone class 18-1 at the Pentagon, March 13, 2018. (DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann)

The Defense Department is expected to finalize its plans to stand up a Space Force by Dec. 1 so they can be included in the fiscal year 2020 presidential budget request, which should be submitted to Congress early next year. The Pentagon is planning to submit its legislative proposal on the Space Force on that timeline “so that Oct. 1 of next year, we can say, ‘Here’s the birthday of the Space Force,’” he said.

Such a cost estimate would be well below the $13 billion number that the Air Force reportedly submitted to the Pentagon and the White House in September, which analysts considered to be about the highest possible amount it would take to field a separate military branch for space.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Thursday that “whatever [budget] is put forward needs to implement the president’s proposal, and that was what we put forward.”

“Our cost estimate that we gave to a lot of people in the Pentagon in September was the cost of a fully fledged standalone department and also a unified combatant command,” she said at the Defense One Summit in Washington, D.C.

An Aug. 9 Pentagon report to Congress revealed several steps the department could take to improve its space architecture without requiring legislative approval, to include standing up a new U.S. Space Command and launching a space development agency (Defense Daily, Aug 9). The Pentagon is moving forward with several of those efforts, and is looking to confirm a new combatant command commander in the first quarter of 2019, Shanahan said Thursday.

The space development agency could have a leader even sooner than that, he said, adding “I’d love to make it this year.”

“That’s really kind of the discussion we’re having right now is … what is that work, and then who would we assign to lead that effort,” Shanahan said.

Whether the Defense Department ultimately submits a cost estimate that’s above $10 billion or below, President Trump’s administration will have to contend with a newly Democratic-led House that is expected to be critical of the need and feasibility of standing up a sixth military branch (Defense Daily, Nov. 7).

But Shanahan was optimistic about working with the likely new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) on the matter, and said DoD is “really diligently putting together a proposal that can withstand the cost scrutiny questions.”

“On the Space Force itself, across the board, everyone has said, accelerate your ability to deliver capabilities,” he said. “That’s been universal, and I think with potentially Chairman Smith in place, … he wants to focus on cost and efficiency, so I think those are kinds of questions that we’ll be expected to address.”

He anticipates there will be debate over the “degrees of cost” to fund the Space Force but that “the proposal that we’re going to carry forward makes sense.”

Wilson, a former Republican congresswoman from New Mexico, agreed that a debate and discussion with Congress on the Space Force is imminent, but that the Air Force remains responsible for ensuring “that we are ready and lethal in both air and space.”

“America is the best in the world in space, and our adversaries know it. And they are seeking to develop the capability to deny us the use of space in crisis or war, and we’re not going to let that happen,” she said.