Money makes the world go around

The recent allocation of funds by US legislators toward the headquarters of a Space Force — under the umbrella of the Air Force — represents a pivotal moment in Washington’s ambitions to maintain America’s technological lead vis-à-vis rival space powers, evidences political foresight in safeguarding its national interests, and demonstrates America’s drive in dominating the strategic high ground in the domain of outer space.

Difficulties have persisted over how funding would be allocated to the creation of the Space Force’s headquarters. Indeed, on 20 May 2019 House Appropriators rejected the Pentagon’s request for $72 million to build a Space Force headquarters, offering only $15 million for a study of the concept. This was given concerns that the new agency would overlap and duplicate existing programs and missions existing in the Air Force. Accordingly, the House Appropriations had withheld funding the Space Development Agency (SDA) until the Air Force and SDA could define a unified and integrated space architecture, and clarify roles and responsibilities within the Space Force.

While a space command has existed within the air force since 1982, the creation of a dedicated defense department for military operations in outer space has gained prominence over the past decade given its perceived necessity in countering emergent threats and competition from China and Russia, and a disjointed focus on Space — with 10 defense organizations working on space-based capabilities and architecture concurrently. A proposed Space Force would distinguish itself in service as a force provider for personnel, assets, and capabilities supporting space operations.

Consequently, the decision on 12 September 2019 for legislators to fund the creation of a Space Force HQ illustrates Washington’s growing political commitment to the eventual creation of an independent Space Force to safeguard and advance US interests in space — representing a notable step within the increasing militarization of outer space, with significant consequences for international peace and security among the stars.

Funding for the new Space Force was previously being debated under the Senate Appropriates Defense Subcommittee (SAC-D), which advanced its Fiscal Year 2020 funding bill for $694.8 billion on 10 September 2019.

Consequently, on 12 September 2019 the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC), as part of the wider $700 billion military budget under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (NDAA), approved the Air Force’s plans for the creation of the new Space Force’s headquarters.

Firstly, the amount of $22 million was allocated for the Tactically Responsible Space Launch which was added to the USAF Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) account.

Second, the amount of $72.4 million was allocated to the pentagon for the Space Force — which would be divided into $9.9 million to hire 65 full-time staff, $8.6 million to transfer certain civilian positions from other organisations, and $53.8 million is for studies, contractor support, analysis towards the implementation of the Space Force.

Third, encompassed $44.7 million concerning the Pentagon’s request for the SDA — a body focused on fostering innovation, leveraging the domestic commercial space sector, and accelerating the development and fielding of new military space capabilities necessary in maintaining the USs technical and military advantage in outer space.

The US government’s growing recognition of the need for a dedicated space force to exercise control over military space operations can be interpreted as a logical progression of the USs burgeoning commercial interest in outer space — with the increasing presence of US companies in outer space necessitating the involvement of the military in safeguarding US assets and interests in space.

While the idea of a new service devoted to space first gained traction in 2000, it is advanced that the

then-passage of the 2015 US Space Act served as a catalyst. The Act sought to capitalize upon the burgeoning US commercial space sector — by providing for long-term extensions of the Federal Aviation Administration’s ability to enact regulations overseeing the safety of spaceflight participants and outlining the US government’s recognition regarding the private ownership of resources extracted by US entities in outer space.

On August 2017, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, the US House of Representatives passed legislation that would direct the Defense Department to create a “space corps” within the Air Force. However, the idea drew opposition from the Pentagon, with many viewing the endeavour as adding unwanted complexity to the unwieldy bureaucracy already present across the military.

On 13 March 2018, US President Donald Trump voiced his support for the creation of a US military branch for outer space affairs. In acknowledging that “Space is a war-fighting domain just like the land, air, and sea.” Accordingly, on 18 June 2018 Trump directed the Department of Defense (DOD) to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the Armed Forces following a meeting with the National Space Council. The announcement followed upon his initial proposals in March 2018, and was framed as a matter of both US national identity and national security in securing “American dominance in space.”

Budget ambiguity

Where the US Air Force’s budget request for FY 2020 alone stands at $165.6 billion, the $94.4 million covered under the NDAA for the Space Force HQ represents the foundational amount of funds required to establish the bureaucratic structure upon which the Space Force will expand. For the Space Force to exert itself as an independent organization requires similar levels of funding to that of existing military branches. However, budget estimates for the Space Force have varied wildly over the past year.

Firstly, an initial quote by the then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson on 14 September 2018 advanced the conservative estimate that the Space Force would cost $13 billion over five years, and include a force of 13,000 people — including a headquarters of 2,400 people. However, this figure was refuted by CSIS as a crudely inflated figure intended to undermine the Space Force proposal by scaring off potential supporters.

Secondly, in February 2019, the DOD advanced a budget proposal requesting for $270 million, spread across the establishment of a Space Force HQ, the SDA, US Space Command. The Space Force HQ would be staffed by up to 200 personnel and would establish a foundation to “accept mission transfer starting in FY21” — envisioning the eventual transfer to an independent branch of the armed forces.

Third, on 3 March 2019, the DOD detailed a 5-year plan for the Space Force envisioning 15,000 members of the service, and an annual budget of $500 million — amounting to $2 billion over the 5-year period. This was premised upon approval from congress for $72 million for FY2020 to stand-up the Space Force HQ in the Pentagon, under the Department of the Air Force.

Finally, in July 2019, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the Space Force would cost up to $3.6 billion over the next 5-years in one-time and recurring costs. This was derived from prior assessments that the new service would require between 4,100 and 6,800 additional personnel for “new management and support positions.”

The CBOs estimate represents the most accurate and recent funding estimate for the Space Force and exists as the next hurdle for the Trump administration in procuring the funding under the NDAA — with democrats hesitant to concede to the projected billions in costs which may arise from the endeavour.

Structural Barriers to the Space Force

Additionally, the formal establishment of the US Space Force still faces several noted challenges. In forming the Space Force, the government must first create US Space Command as a new unified combat command. Secondly, Washington must build an elite group of space officers called “Space Operations Force.” Third, the Space Development Agency must be created as a new joint procurement arm for space products. Finally, a civilian must be appointed to the newly created post of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space. Following approval from both houses for a Space Force, the Air Force secretary and Space Force chief of staff can formally request the necessary framework and budget tailored to the service.

While the NDAA had previously passed before the US House of Representative — and now the SAC — the Bill must now be debated on the floor of the US Senate. Legislators have since pledged for the quick passage of the NDAA, with the stated goal of setting floor votes before end-September and passing the Bill ahead of schedule within the next two months.

Accordingly, a civilian must then be appointed to the post of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space. This official would be charged with overseeing the formal establishment and expansion of the space force and would report directly to the secretary of defence. While a Bill to establish said post was proposed by Senator Ted Cruz in June 2019, it has yet to be introduced and passed in either house and currently remains before the Committee on Armed Services.

The final structural roadblock to a fully independent space force — with its own budget and authorities over its personnel — involves revising Title 10 of the US Code to add a new armed service. However, it continues to be unclear whether lawmakers will amend Title 10. Legislators have argued that the Space Force will not be able to function as a separate service until Title 10 is amended — with Vice President Mike Pence having lobbied the Senate Armed Services Committee for such a change.

Without the Space Force formally recognized as a sixth military branch under Title 10, the Office of Management and Budget may forgo providing the service with its own budget top-line — forcing both Air Force and Space Force priorities to compete over the same funding pool. Consequently, such amendments to Title 10 is estimated to add $800 million to the $1.3 billion in annual costs, and between $1.1 billion and $3 billion in one-time costs, to the NDAA budget over the next 5-years.

Despite the successful allocation of funding for the Space Force’s HQ, further steps are required before the creation of a fully independent Space Force. Among this, politicians must work to procure the necessary $3.6 billion in funding for the new department over the next 5-years and work to amend Title 10 of the US Code to include the Space Force as an independent branch of the military.

While the funding of the Space Force HQ represents the result of decades of debate and lobbying efforts, much work remains to be done. In achieving these ends, the Trump administration must overcome mounting political opposition within a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, while also maintaining political momentum amongst Air Force officials in the Pentagon — many of whom were previously unconvinced at the need for an independent Space Force.

Indeed, the need for a US Space Force has been heightened by an emerging arms race — with India active in the development of anti-satellite weaponry, and France announcing the planned establishment of a space command for the purposes of national defence in August 2019. Regardless, within an increasingly militarized environment, the US remains uniquely poised to solidify its hold over the strategic high ground of space for over the next decade.