Key Space Force Directive Missing from White House Meeting Agenda

Former Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt hands a figurine to President Donald Trump after he signed a policy directive to send American astronauts back to the moon, and eventually Mars, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Dec. 11, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Former Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt hands a figurine to President Donald Trump after he signed a policy directive to send American astronauts back to the moon, and eventually Mars, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Dec. 11, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Vice President Mike Pence will convene a space-focused meeting Tuesday with Cabinet secretaries, members of the national space and security councils, and policy officials, but the White House will not be discussing a key provision for establishing the Space Force -- one Pentagon officials have been waiting months to address.

Since June, the Defense Department has wanted to focus on Space Policy Directive-4, which lays a critical foundation to create the Department of the Space Force, according to Pentagon officials.

Next week's planned meeting was seen as an opportune time to discuss it, given that top leaders will meet to "focus on national security space policy and consider insights from the national security community and members of the National Space Council," according to the White House draft agenda.

But SPD-4 is not on the agenda for this fourth official meeting, "Moon, Mars and the World Beyond: Winning the Next Frontier," Military.com has exclusively learned.

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Instead, participants will hear from a panel of defense and commercial industry experts before top brass can make remarks and suggestions, according to a copy of the agenda. Attendees include Doug Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy; Mark Sirangelo, an "entrepreneur-in-residence" at the University of Colorado Boulder's aerospace engineering program and former head of Sierra Nevada Corporation's space business; and Air Force Lt. Gen. James K. McLaughlin, deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command.

Loverro has been an outspoken proponent of the president's proposed sixth military branch. In June, he penned an Op-Ed in Space News claiming that Space Force critics don't understand what militarized space truly means. He said space operations do not belong to any one entity, pointing to the Air Force and its attempts to control space operations.

"The Air Force failed to identify space as essential to their identity. A Space Force would have had no such qualms. A Space Force would have used the opportunity of the threat to push even harder and faster to defend U.S. space assets, not engage in a retreat -- because if they did not, they would no longer matter," he wrote. "Similarly, while the Air Force jealously advocates for more and more resources for air operations, and consistently attempts to expand its mission space to engage in new areas of warfare, it consistently tries to shed space missions as unnecessary or unessential."

Loverro and others will make their recommendations before Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, two Pentagon officials have confirmed.

Wilson's presence comes just a few weeks after reports surfaced that she is on the outs with President Donald Trump over her efforts to carry out his Space Force agenda.

According to a report from Foreign Policy published earlier this month, Trump is considering removing Wilson over her reluctance to advance his Space Force proposal. The president is assessing whether to fire Wilson, who was confirmed as the 24th Air Force secretary last May, after the midterm elections, Foreign Policy reported, citing three anonymous sources with knowledge of the matter.

The Pentagon and White House have both strongly refuted the report.

"This is nonsense," Pentagon chief spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement Oct. 5. "The Department of Defense leadership team is focused on defending our great nation and working together to be worthy of the blood, treasure and faith entrusted to us by the American people."

Others at the meeting will include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen; National Security Adviser John Bolton; NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao; Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta; Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney; Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Kelvin Droegemeier; and Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Doug Fears.

The meeting will be held at the National War College at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.

The Scope of SPD-4

Officials said that while SPD-4 remains in limbo, recommendations from the meeting will go straight to Trump, who is likely to authorize the steps needed to start standing up components of the department, without needing congressional approval.

Previous White House meetings laid foundations for the first three Space Policy Directives, which focused on human space flight to the moon, economic growth and streamlining regulations for both public and private space industry, and space traffic management. The meetings mark a renewed U.S. focus on space since Trump reinstituted the National Space Council in 2017.

SPD-4 has a very specific focus: The establishment of the U.S. Space Force.

If the White House is in earnest about its ambitious timeline for the creation of a Department of the Space Force as an independent branch of the military, it will need to address the authorities assigned to carry out the new space directive.

Mattis would be tasked to identify and consolidate "existing space resources to establish the Space Force components within [30] days" after the directive goes into effect, according to the Pentagon SPD-4 draft report.

The proposed "Department of the Space Force," to be led by a civilian secretary, will be part of the Defense Department and responsible for the training, equipping and organization of the U.S. Space Force.

"Space Force," as Trump calls it, encompasses both the proposed Department of the Space Force and the U.S. Space Force military service, the document states. This will include the unified U.S. Space Command and the Space Development Agency.

"Until the establishment of a Department of the Space Force, [U.S. Space Command] will have the responsibilities of the Joint Force Provider and Joint Force training for the Space Operations Forces," the document continues. The Space Operations Forces, according to Pence's unveiling of the plan at the Pentagon in August, are meant to be composed of personnel from all services, with experts in operations, intelligence, engineering, cyber and other disciplines made available to leaders of combatant commands.

"Moving expeditiously toward a unified command reflects the importance of warfighting in space to the Joint Force," the document says. "The Commander of this command will lead space warfighting though global space operations that may occur in the space domain, the terrestrial domains or through the electromagnetic spectrum."

The definitions are not far off from the congressionally mandated report crafted by Shanahan in August, which said the Pentagon has the authority to create a combatant command, known as U.S. Space Command, without lawmaker approval.

The Space Development Agency

The DoD would also move forward with the Space Development Agency (SDA) to oversee satellite and other space equipment acquisition created in part out of the existing Air Force Space and Missile Center.

Mattis would have only a few weeks to lay out just how SDA will work once SPD-4 is signed. He will "develop an operating model and reporting structure of the Space Development Agency within [45] days," the report says.

There has been much confusion over the handling of the SDA and whether it is feasible.

In a 14-page memo dated Sept. 14, Wilson made the case against a separate agency to oversee satellite acquisition, a move championed by Shanahan in his report. Satellite acquisition, she said, should be handled by a single service to facilitate streamlining and monitoring.

"It has to be done right the first time," she wrote. "You don't have maintainers who go up and fix satellites."

In the same memo, Wilson said the DoD will need roughly $12.9 billion over five years to resource personnel and infrastructure for the proposed Space Force.

Mattis would also work with Coats on how the intelligence community, including the National Reconnaissance Office and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, will fit into the Space Force effort, SPD-4 says.

The Pentagon's third Space Force report, which will advise lawmakers on the appropriate legislative language needed for the fiscal 2020 budget request, is scheduled to be published in December. A preliminary report was created in March; the second report was unveiled by Pence, Shanahan and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen Paul Selva in August.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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