USAF Space Budget Offers Little Details on Space Force

The Air Force and its mission partners successfully launched the first Global Positioning Systems III satellite at 8:51 a.m. EST, on Dec. 23, 2018, from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla. Screenshot from Air Force video by Krista Knaus.

The Air Force plans to spend $13.8 billion on its space enterprise in fiscal 2020, a nearly 17 percent increase over fiscal 2019 that includes a small amount of funding to stand up a new Space Force headquarters within the service.

Research and development costs account for the majority of the growth from the $11.9 billion that was enacted in fiscal 2019, according to Carolyn Gleason, the Air Force’s civilian budget deputy.

Further investment in research and development will speed the Air Force’s push toward a “defendable space posture,” the service said in its budget documents. As a sole example, R&D funding for the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared missile warning satellite would more than double from $643 million in fiscal 2019 to $1.4 billion in fiscal 2020.

Space procurement, which comprises 9 percent of all acquisition, is expected to remain about flat at $2.4 billion compared to $2.3 billion in the current fiscal year.

The fiscal 2020 budget request funds four National Security Space launches—one fewer than the year before—as well as the procurement of the first GPS III follow-on satellite, according to the Air Force.

National Security Space Launch procurement funding—formerly the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program—is set to drop from $1.6 billion to $1.2 billion. Production of GPS IIIF’s 13th space vehicle, a new-start program, is slated to cost about $415 million.

According to Pentagon budget documents, space initiatives will also require $1.1 billion to “[reduce] risk to satellite communications jamming,” another $1.8 billion for the GPS III follow-on and the Next-Generation Operational Control System, and $1.6 billion to improve space-based missile-warning capabilities.

“The Air Force will continue the production of Space Based Infrared Systems Space Vehicles 5 and 6 to address OPIR requirements, and Advanced Extremely High Frequency Space Vehicles 5 and 6 to meet military SATCOM needs,” the comptroller’s overview stated. “Resiliency improvements are being incorporated into the production line for SBIRS Space Vehicles 5 and 6 and AEHF Space Vehicles 5 and 6. Additional resilience initiatives will continue to be investigated and implemented where possible.”

Despite months of speculation about the details of a Space Force rollout—which still needs to be approved by Congress as part of the fiscal 2020 defense policy and spending bill debates—the Air Force revealed little information Tuesday. As previewed in the Pentagon’s initial proposal published earlier this month, standing up a headquarters over five years will require less than $100 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

Opening a Space Force headquarters would take just $72 million in its first year, including $54 million for mission support and $19 million for civilian pay, according to Air Force budget documents.

“Funding for the headquarters will include 160 personnel billets to establish the initial elements and proposed structure of the US Space Force,” the service added.

Defense Department budget documents indicate 120 of those staffers will transfer from other organizations, and DOD will hire 40 additional workers. Of the $72 million needed to create a headquarters, about $9 million would be transferred from other uses, while more than $63 million would be additional funding.

The Pentagon’s new request makes clear a Space Force is the first step on the way to a separate department, despite earlier pushback from outgoing Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

“The long-term vision of the DOD is to create a new military department for space,” Air Force budget documents said. “DOD first proposes establishing a new military service—a new branch of the armed forces—within the Department of the Air Force. Allowing the Space Force to mature before proposing a new Department of the Space Force would set the conditions for a smooth transition in the future.”

As part of this week’s budget rollout, the Air Force did not publish its five-year cost projections or offer new information about what the Space Force might oversee.

Though long-term costs of a Space Force and its composite parts are still murky, putting plans for the new service in a budget request helps formally jumpstart Congress’s debate over whether to approve it. The sixth branch of the Armed Forces is slated to start executing missions in fiscal 2021, according to the Defense Department.

Also wrapped into the Pentagon’s $14.1 billion space budget request is $149.8 million in new resources for the Space Development Agency—which may eventually fall under the Space Force—and $83.8 million for US Space Command, the newest unified combatant command that is expected to stand up this spring.

The Department of Defense will transfer 587 military and civilian staffers and funding from the National Space Defense Center, Joint Force Space Component Command, Joint Navigation Warfare Center, and other groups to USSPACECOM, according to the DOD comptroller’s budget overview. Those organizations will report to Space Command instead of Strategic Command.

Space Command, which will oversee daily space operations, would total nearly 620 personnel in fiscal 2020—all but 30 of whom would transfer in, according to the Pentagon comptroller. The Air Force promises to devote “greater time and resources” to training its space operators, who will become the “cornerstone” of US Space Command as it stands up this year.

DOD plans to pull about $76 million from other sources for the new command, and add an extra $8.2 million.

An SDA would start with $150 million and 50 personnel, including 20 transfers and 30 new hires —although it’s unclear how that agency would share responsibilities with other entities like Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center.

Wilson told reporters last month she’s skeptical of a new space development organization that may step on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s toes, or that may not exist as a standalone group for long.