As the House and Senate prepare to enter conference talks on the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), one major area negotiators will debate is the creation of a new Space Force under the Air Force.
Both NDAA bills that passed the individual chambers included some version of a new agency devoted to space sitting under the Department of the Air Force, although some differences remain between the two. To start, the Senate’s NDAA authorizes a Space Force, as requested by the Trump administration, while the House’s bill approves a Space Corps, reflecting a previous effort by the House to stand up a new agency under the Air Force.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have supported the need to place more focus and investment on space capabilities but have been cautious about the level of additional funding and bureaucracy needed to make it happen.
Speaking to reporters July 24, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he believes there is enough backing to create some sort of Space Force or Space Corps within the NDAA, but it will more likely be “a lean space force designed to meet the objectives we all want to achieve.”
He added that many of the elements that were laid out in Defense Department memos since February related to a new Space Force may not make it into the final bill, and noted that the Pentagon has not always been able to agree on a path forward.
“We’ll listen to what they say, but there’s a lot of different voices saying things coming out of DoD, depending on where you are,” Thornberry said.
Areas of debate include the amount of new four-star-level positions that would be created to stand up the Space Force. The House and Senate have differing opinions about how the leadership will be established, with the Senate requesting that the new U.S. Space Command Commander serve as the Space Force chief of staff for one year before the two four-star positions are separated, and requires the chief of staff to wait one year before becoming a permanent member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Defense Daily, May 23).
The House version would not require a one-year buffer before the chief of staff could serve as a member of the Joint Chiefs, and provides for a separate Space Force secretary – the Senate version provides for an undersecretary for the Space Force who would be subordinate to the Air Force secretary.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters Tuesday that he does not anticipate any challenges to coming to agreement on the Space Force in conference.
The Pentagon has proposed establishing the Space Force between fiscal years 2020to 2024, and requested $72 million in the FY ’20 presidential budget request to begin standup. It estimates the Space Force will cost an additive $500 million per year through 2024, for a total of $2 billion.
It remains to be seen how the Senate Appropriations Committee will seek to fund the proposed Space Force in the FY ’20 defense bill, as the committee has not yet released draft legislation. Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters earlier this week he intends to move swiftly once members return from August recess.
President Donald Trump worked to drum up support for a new Space Force during a welcome ceremony July 25 for new Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, saying supporters at his rallies “go absolutely wild” when he mentions the effort. Esper reaffirmed his commitment to establish “for the first time in 70 years, a new branch of the service: A United States Space Force.”