Space Force Looking for Surge in Funding for 2023 to Focus on Missile Defense Warning Systems

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ULA Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s Lucy spacecraft launches from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral
A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s Lucy spacecraft launches from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., October 16, 2021. (Joshua Conti/U.S. Space Force)

The Space Force, America’s newest and smallest service branch, is seeking a huge increase in funding as part of the White House’s 2023 defense budget, with a goal of developing and growing the nation’s missile warning systems as tensions rise with China and Russia.

In 2023 budget documents released Monday, Space Force – which falls under the department of the Air Force – requested $24.5 billion, which marked a nearly 40% increase from the previous year. The majority of funds are projected to be used on research and development as well as establishing more missile warning systems in space.

“The reason there is a Space Force, the reason the Obama administration changed its strategy for space was because of the threat,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters during a media roundtable Friday. “The widespread investment that both China and Russia have in anti-space, counter-space capabilities including things that threaten us in all different orbital regimes.”

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The majority of Space Force’s 2023 budget, 65%, would be focused on research, development, testing and evaluation, according to the budget documents. It’s a 33% increase from last year’s ask.

Since being created in 2019, Space Force's mission -- to protect and defend the massive U.S. satellite fleet -- is crucial in everything from the country's reliance on GPS to detecting abnormalities in the Earth's orbit, and the 2023 budget shows some of the largest investments in developing and growing their capabilities.

Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Monday’s budget numbers show that the military is taking space capabilities seriously with the Department of the Air Force focusing its attention not just on Russia but primarily on China.

This past November, the Russian Federation destroyed one of its own Soviet-era satellites with a missile, sending thousands of scraps of shrapnel hurtling through space, a cloud of debris that threatened other orbiting satellites, including those belonging to the U.S.

But even with that notable incident, China remains more of a threat, Harrison added.

“China has the full suite of anti-satellite weapons, everything from jammers that could do electronic attacks to lasers that could blind the sensors on satellites, and missiles that could shoot down satellites and create debris,” Harrison said.

Nearly $3 billion would be spent on missile warning development programs, which Kendall underscored as the biggest priority and goal for the new service.

“There's no more important services than missile warning, and nuclear command control, particularly from space,” Kendall said. “So we're trying to move forward aggressively.”

Many of the funding increases come from reallocated money and resources as the Space Development Agency moves from the Secretary of Defense’s Office to being a part of Space Force, and very little of the funds are connected to personnel increases, according to the budget documents.

The 2023 budget transfers $1 billion to run personnel expenses separate from the Air Force, and would build the active-duty strength of the Space Force to 8,600 – adding 200 new Guardians to the total force, mostly through transfers from other service branches.

The 2023 budget also requests funding to provide a 4.6% pay raise, a 4.2% basic housing allowance increase as well as a 3.6% basic allowance for subsistence, which can be used to offset the price of groceries during inflation.

It also allows for a 4.6% pay increase for civilian contractors in the Space Force.

There were no construction estimates in the 2023 budget request for Space Force, but the Air Force budget did ask for $68 milion to build a dormitory at Clear Space Force Station in Denali, Alaska.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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