Space Force Still an Unfunded Concept as Pentagon Grasps for a Plan

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan speaks to Airmen during the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 19, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo/Anthony Nelson Jr.)
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan speaks to Airmen during the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 19, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo/Anthony Nelson Jr.)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Pentagon has yet to figure out how to create, organize and fund the new Space Force that President Donald Trump ordered as a new service branch, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Wednesday.

"We're really wrestling with the 'how,' " said Shanahan, the Pentagon's Space Force point man, in an address to Air Force Association's Air, Space and Cyber Conference. But he maintained that the commitment is there and the services and combatant commands are falling in line with the president's directive.

"While there's plenty of debate about the 'how,' we are united by the 'why' -- protecting our economy and deterring our adversaries," Shanahan said.

Shanahan, who was known as "Mr. Fix-It" as a top executive and engineer at Boeing, said the first task is to determine what gear and capabilities troops needed to defend U.S. interests in space.

Related: Read more about the military's Space Force

"Once we determine that, we can organize around them," he said.

The difficulty is that "it’s been thrust upon us" in short order to create a new organization that will become a separate service branch, which hasn't been done since the Air Force was created in 1947, he said.

Shanahan said his team is in the process of developing doctrines, tactics and techniques that will integrate the new service branch smoothly with the combatant commands and the other services.

"Along the way, we will do no harm to existing missions, create no seams between the services, and remain laser-focused on our warfighters and the capabilities they need to win," he pledged.

"There'll be some arm wrestling and hand-wringing" as the concept for the new Space Force takes shape, Shanahan said, but his intention is to have a plan and a legislative proposal ready next February.

He could have a hard sell ahead on the legislative proposal, no matter which party controls the House and Senate when he makes it. His job was made more difficult earlier this week when Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson projected that setting up the Space Force could cost $13 billion.

Wilson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis initially opposed creation of the Space Force as a new service branch, but they have since come around to support it.

In Congress, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, chairman of the Appropriations Committee; and other Republicans have expressed varying degrees of skepticism on the Space Force.

On the House side, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee and a member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, is at the forefront of the opposition.

"I strongly disagree with the president that now is the time to create a separate Space Force. Congress is laser-focused on slimming down the bloated bureaucracy at the Pentagon, and creating a new Space Force will inevitably result in more, not less, bureaucracy," Coffman said in a statement last month.

The Space Force would likely be scuttled if the Democrats win control of either the House or Senate in November and embark, as might be expected, on an agenda to block all things Trump.

On the "Fox News Sunday" program last month, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who would become the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman if the Democrats win the Senate, said that creating a Space Force as "a separate service with all of the infrastructure and the bureaucracy is not the way to go."

Immediately following Shanahan's presentation at the AFA, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said creation of the Space Force likely would result in some initial changes to organization and responsibilities for the other services and combatant commands, but the problems would be worked out.

"We're actually going to explore that" at STRATCOM, he said, adding that the Space Force is "an opportunity to experiment with some different constructs. We'll walk through how we do that" with the Joint Staff and other commands.

Ultimately, "I think it's an issue of command relations, authorities and responsibilities," Hyten said.

-- Richard Sisk, can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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