The Trump administration has registered discontent with several elements of the Senate-passed fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and issued a letter last week urging remedies be applied in forthcoming conference talks before a joint bill is passed.

A Sept. 4 letter from White House officials to Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) includes 10 items that the administration opposes in the bill, notably related to the stand up of a new Space Force and to a provision that gives the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) sole authority to develop a new missile defense space sensor layer.

The letter, which was reviewed by Defense Daily, was signed by Russ Voigt, acting director of the Office of Management and budget, and claimed the Senate version of the NDAA did not provide “the necessary legislative authority” to establish the Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces.

“Further, quickly developing a strong, multifaceted culture is critical, and the Administration urges the Congress to provide authority to transfer personnel from all branches of the Armed Forces into the Space Force,” the letter said. The White House issued its list of complaints related to the House-passed NDAA in July (Defense Daily, July 10).

Acting Air Force Secretary Matt Donovan has made similar calls to Congress in recent weeks, asking for confirmation that the joint NDAA will include changes to Title 10 authorities that will allow the Space Force to be stood up as a separate branch under the Air Force, and not as a mere reshuffling of personnel within the Air Force.

“To move forward, we call on the Congress to appropriately modify Title 10 of United States Code, and provide the necessary funding and manpower to fully empower the United States Space Force to organize, train, and equip ready forces for the joint warfighter, on an equal basis with the other five services,” Donovan said Sept. 4 at the annual Defense News conference, after making a similar request at the Aug. 20 meeting of the National Space Council in Virginia.

The House-passed NDAA does change Title 10 to establish a new Space Corps – a slight name change from the Space Force – under the Air Force, similar to the way the Marine Corps is a separate branch under the Navy. Meanwhile, the Senate version reads simply,” there is in the Air Force the United States Space Force.” The upper chamber has also included a one-year transition period where Air Force Space Command would be re-designated as the U.S. Space Force.

House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters in July that the Space Force proposal could shrink during conference negotiations, and would more likely come out as a “lean Space Force” despite backing from a bipartisan majority of lawmakers (Defense Daily, July 24).

Another item in the Senate-passed NDAA that was critiqued in the letter relates to a provision that names the MDA as the agency responsible for building and deploying a future missile tracking space sensor constellation, saying the language “would limit DoD’s ability to establish the most cost-effective missile defense architecture for the Nation.”

Mike Griffin, the Pentagon’s Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, has frequently cited such a new sensor constellation as a key priority for the Pentagon’s nascent Space Development Agency (SDA) (Defense Daily,  March 13). “DoD has multiple efforts underway to inform the future space architecture design, including an ongoing Missile Defense Agency analysis of alternatives and prototyping efforts led by the Space Development Agency,” the letter said. “These efforts should inform the path forward before the Department designates a lead agency and establishes design priorities.”

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate armed services and appropriations committees have expressed skepticism regarding the new SDA.