The Space Corps is Dead, Long Live the Space Department

The final version of the Fiscal 2018 defense authorization bill makes sweeping changes to the space organization, including making the position of commander of Air Force Space Command a six-year billet. Here, AFSPC boss Gen. John Raymond speaks at AFA's Air, Space & Cyber Conferencec on Sept. 19, 2017. Air Force photo by SSgt. Chad Trujillo.

The proposal to establish a separate Space Corps within the Air Force has been eliminated from the final version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, but lawmakers are proceeding with sweeping changes to the organization of military space nonetheless.

These reforms are intended to reshape Air Force Space Command along the lines of “the Air Corps Act of 1926, which established the Army Air Corps,” and to lay the groundwork for the possibility of a “separate military department” devoted to space operations, according to a statement from Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), architects of the original Space Corps proposal.

Neither the House nor the Senate has voted yet on the conference version of the bill, which would empower AFSPC while stripping away other USAF authorities in the realm of National Security Space.

The new version of the NDAA identifies AFSPC as “the sole authority for organizing, training, and equipping all space forces within the Air Force,” and makes the commander of AFSPC “answerable only to the Secretary of the Air Force.” Congress also plans to extend the term of service for the AFSPC boss to six years, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee summary of the bill.

In order to consolidate military space decision-making, the bill eliminates the recently established Air Force position of deputy chief of staff for space operations (A11). Rogers and Cooper called the billet “a hastily developed half-measure, …which at best only added a box on the organization chart.” The service announced it was creating the A11 position in April, and the Senate confirmed Maj. Gen. David Thompson earlier this month to serve in that role.

The bill also eliminates the role of principal Department of Defense space advisor (PDSA). That role is currently performed by the Secretary of the Air Force, an arrangement which DOD reconfirmed as recently as June.

The Defense Space Council is another casualty of the bill, which also takes responsibility for the management of DOD’s recently created budget category for space acquisitions away from the Secretary of the Air Force.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan would oversee all of these changes, and his office would absorb the “duties, responsibilities, and personnel” reassigned from the A11 space operations directorate.

Rogers and Cooper also said the bill requires a new study “without affiliation to the Air Force” that can “provide Congress with a road map to establish a separate military department responsible for national security space activities of the DOD.”

In other military space concerns, the conference version of the bill retains restrictions on the evolved expendable launch vehicle program’s efforts to replace the Russian-made RD-180 engine with a domestically produced alternative. Congress wants to limit EELV spending narrowly to engine development costs. The Air Force strongly opposes such a restriction because it wants to continue its strategy of investing in the development of entire launch systems that include US-made engines.