WASHINGTON — While the U.S. Defense Department laid out some preliminary steps it plans to take ahead of implementing a sixth service branch known as the Space Force, much is still unknown — including what structure the Space Force will take and how much it will cost.
Speaking to reporters Aug. 9, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva said the Pentagon now must hammer out the specifics of how the Space Force is to be broken away from the existing services and fashioned into an independent branch.
“We haven’t put together a legislative proposal,” Shanahan said. “My sense is we’ll put something like that together this year and it will probably look like this: Here are options. You could have something that’s very extensive. You could have something that’s medium [sized].”
Earlier Thursday morning, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Trump administration hopes to receive congressional approval to get the Space Force off the ground in fiscal 2020.
Following the vice president’s speech, the Pentagon rolled out a report on its management structure for space, nicknamed the 1601 report after the congressional provision in the 2018 defense policy bill that called for its creation, which was overseen by Shanahan.
The report calls for a new unified combatant command, U.S. Space Command, which will be led by a four-star general responsible for overseeing space operations. It also creates a Space Development Agency, which will be a joint rapid procurement agency for space assets.
However, it’s not immediately clear whether these new organizations will replace or be a complement to similar, already existent ones in the long term — an uncertainty that could have major implications for the Air Force, which owns and operates most of the military’s space infrastructure.
Shanahan imagines the Space Development Agency will be “carved out” from the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center — meaning some resources and programs currently in SMC could be transferred to the Space Development Agency, but that the center would still exist independently.
But whether SMC will eventually shift from Air Force ownership to Space Force control remains unknown.
On the new U.S. Space Command, Selva noted that some forces from Air Force Space Command would move from the Air Force to Space Force but left the door open on whether the Air Force would be allowed to retain some of its space capability.
“The first steps are to make sure that you do no harm to the missions that are being accomplished today,” he said. “We have to sit down and determine how we’re going to migrate those missions from where they are to where they [will] land. All of that will be subject to the consent of Congress.”
One priority stated in the report was to “grow the number and quality” of space personnel to meet the needs of the U.S. Space Command, something that could also increase. However, Shanahan noted at multiple points that President Donald Trump and Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget, have explicitly directed the department to not add any overhead.
“People get an allergic reaction to adding overhead or unnecessary bureaucracy,” he said. “I’ve been with the president at multiple times. He always hammers on me: ‘Are you taking cost out? Are you reducing unnecessary regulations? Are you reducing bureaucracy?’ ”
By not having a firm plan in hand, the Defense Department could be opening itself to a smaller, more limited version of the Space Force that still allots the Air Force a great deal of say-so on space.
Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, noted that there’s still “time for the Goldilocks position to prevail” — meaning a middle ground between Trump’s Space Force proposal for a brand-new service and a more modest set of organizational changes.
There are a lot of steps the Pentagon will need to take before a Space Force is set up, and during that process, as department officials put together the budget and its strategic priorities, there are multiple off-ramps where the effort could be undone, delayed or watered down, she said.
This won’t necessarily be a partisan, political fight, but “over time, bureaucracy does what bureaucracy does,” and the Trump administration could still claim a win for enacting big changes to the military space enterprise by standing up U.S. Space Command and emphasizing a faster acquisition process, she added.
No cost estimates yet, but we have these logos.
The Pentagon might still be working on the specifics of Space Force implementation, but the Trump campaign has Space Force logos ready to go.
In an email to supporters this afternoon, Trump’s political action committee showed off six potential (and probably unofficial) emblems for the new service, which will be used by the campaign “to commemorate President Trump’s new Space Force,” possibly in future promotional materials.
One of the logos includes the words “Mars awaits” set amid a rocky red landscape — a move that is a little perplexing, as U.S. military space operations have not historically included space exploration.