Pentagon Adds Personnel, Ups Nuke Investments as Space Force Takes Shape

Gen. John "Jay" Raymond, the commander of Air Force Space Command and the Joint Force Space Component Command, hosted an all-call on July 2, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. During the all-call Raymond discussed many topics regarding the Air Force Space Command community and how space is now a warfighting domain. (Clayton Wear/Air Force)
Gen. John "Jay" Raymond, the commander of Air Force Space Command and the Joint Force Space Component Command, hosted an all-call on July 2, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. During the all-call Raymond discussed many topics regarding the Air Force Space Command community and how space is now a warfighting domain. (Clayton Wear/Air Force)

Space defenders to the front.

The newly minted Space Force may not yet have an official rank structure or an anthem, but it's set to receive healthy investment in the fiscal 2021 defense budget as the service gets off the ground.

The White House defense budget request, released Monday, would keep overall non-emergency spending levels essentially flat, coming in at $705.4 billion including a base of $636.5 billion and a combined Overseas Contingency Operations augment of $69 billion. The fiscal 2020 budget total was $712.6 billion, including $8 billion in "emergency" funds that, among other things, supported President Donald Trump's request for border wall funding. It's not clear yet whether an emergency funding augment would be added to this year's bill; it was not included in Monday's request.

The Defense Department request would make up the majority of an agreed-upon $740 billion overall spend for defense, including funding for other agencies. That topline was set by a budget agreement set last summer.

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The active-duty force is slated to grow some 5,500 troops on net, with Space Force gaining a founding cadre of 6,400, all of which are transferring from the Air Force. The Navy will add some 5,300 sailors while the Marine Corps sheds about 600; the Army is looking to increase its strength by 900 "to achieve the strategic readiness required to support the NDS," a Defense Department budget request overview document states.

For personnel, the budget includes a 3% pay raise, following on the heels of 2020's 3.1% raise. While the request funds a gradual repeal of the Survivor Benefit Plan/Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset -- known colloquially as the "Widow's Tax" -- and continues to resource efforts to create a merged electronic health record for patients within the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs, it also contains a surprising $114 million drop in funds for military family housing, from $1.465 billion to $1.351 billion. That comes on the heels of a 2019 scandal in which reporting revealed dangerous mold and vermin in privatized military housing, prompting a new tenant's bill of rights and housing inspections across the military.

The request does, however, include a $54.6 million year-over-year increase in "Military Housing Privatization Support," a bump of 82%, according to documents, to add staff, improve quality control and increase training, among other things.

"We recognize the Department has had a lapse in oversight, giving ride to concerns about the health, safety, and welfare of residents living in privatized housing," DoD officials said in the overview document. "These concerns deserve immediate action to ensure our Service members and their families receive quality housing, fair treatment, and greater accountability from both the Department and our housing privatization partners."

'Night Court' and New Investments

Subtitled "Irreversible Implementation of the National Defense Strategy," the new budget request includes $1 billion worth of "Night Court" divestments of aging and lower-priority programs, including the Navy's first four littoral combat ships, four ballistic missile defense cruisers, and 24 Air Force Global Hawk drones. It then increases research and development of new technology by more than $2 billion in a dramatic gesture of support for an NDS that emphasizes preparation for near-peer competition, with China and Russia as primary threats. Among investment priorities is an accelerated hypersonic weapons capability, with plans for the Army to field and test-fire the first prototype hypersonic battery by 2022 and "[field] combat rounds" by fiscal 2023.

The Air Force, meanwhile, will take point on development of a team tasked with helping U.S. military weapons and systems communicate with each other across domains on the battlefield, better networking the services and preparing the Defense Department to deploy more unmanned and autonomous systems into the fight. The request includes $435 million toward this effort.

A clear winner in the budget is space operations, which total $18 billion, including nearly $15.5 billion, most of it transferred from the Air Force, to stand up Space Force, funding nearly 10,000 uniformed and civilian personnel and including $111 million to fund and maintain service headquarters and field centers. The lion's share of Space Force funding, however -- $10.3 billion -- is earmarked for research, development, test and evaluation.

"The U.S. Space Force will invest in developing space power doctrine; space education and training; space concepts of operations; space tactics, techniques and procedures; space intelligence; and space personnel management," according to the overview.

Nuclear Deterrence Spending

Elsewhere, the Air Force's Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program, set to replace the nation's current nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal, will see investments tripled, with $1.5 billion requested, up from $600 million enacted this year. The budget would also buy the first Columbia-class nuclear submarine, with $4.4 billion invested in that program -- set to replace the current Ohio class -- up from $2.4 billion this year.

The Navy will also see continued investment in shipbuilding, though at reduced levels, down $20 billion from $24 in 2020. The 2021 request buys a total of eight ships, including two additional large unmanned surface vessels as the service invests in a future fleet of drone and lightly manned ships. Among other ship purchases are another frigate, with a design expected to be chosen this year; two Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers; a Virginia-class submarine, and a San Antonio-class amphibious ship. The request also saves the carrier Harry S. Truman from a previously planned mid-life retirement, setting a refueling for the ship instead beginning in 2025.

The Army and the Marine Corps will together buy more than 2,400 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, spending $1.5 billion on that emerging capability, while the Marine Corps will spend $521 million on 72 amphibious combat vehicles, set to replace aging amphibious assault vehicles. In addition, the Army will continue to spend on its close combat lethality programs, with a doubled investment of $111 million on its next-generation squad weapon, set to replace the Army's M4A1 carbine and M249 squad automatic weapon.

Funding for warfighting and security efforts in Afghanistan and against ISIS and Iraq and Syria is decreased slightly, with the entire Overseas Contingency Operations request down $2.3 billion from 2020. Despite the vaunted defeat of ISIS forces and recent efforts to pull back U.S. troops in northern Syria, the "Counter-ISIS Train and Equip Fund" request is only down fractionally, from $1.2 billion to $900 million.

Officials noted that budget reductions tend to lag behind presence reductions due to "the fixed, and often inelastic, costs of infrastructure, support requirements, and in-theater presence to support contingency operations."

"The training, equipment, and operational support in this request will secure territory previously held by ISIS and prevent its reemergence," the overview notes.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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