Space Force: Pentagon Navigates Way Ahead and Awaits Direction From Congress

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will turn to his own policy advisers for options that he could present to the president.The establishment of a space branch of the military will be a “thorough, deliberate and inclusive process. As such, we should not expect any immediate moves or changes,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and Chief MSgt. Kaleth Wright wrote in a letter sent on Tuesday to the entire force.

The Pentagon that is known to have a plan for everything does not have one for how to create a Space Force, at least not yet. A study ordered by Congress in the 2018 defense policy bill — to examine options for reorganizing the Air Force with a separate space branch — could provide guidance. But that report — outsourced to the government-funded think tank Center for Naval Analyses — is not expected to be completed until the end of the year.

Under any scenario, only Congress has the authority to reorganize the military or create a new service, so the Pentagon likely will not take any action until after Congress puts forth a proposal. Space and defense analyst Todd Harrison, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Congress will probably make the Space Force a major agenda item in the defense policy bill for fiscal year 2020.

Meantime, it appears that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will turn to his own advisers for options that he could present to the president or to lawmakers if asked to do so. Mattis’ chief spokesperson Dana White said in a statement that the Defense Policy Board “will begin working on this issue.”

On Capitol Hill, there are mixed views on the Space Force. Although the House voted for the creation of a Space Corps last year, the Senate was not on board. And with President Trump now leading the charge, things could get complicated as members will want to make sure the executive branch is respectful of Congress’ powers to “organize, train and equip” the U.S. armed forces. Further, the president and the House have different definitions of a Space Force. Trump characterized it as a separate, independent branch of the military, whereas the Space Corps the House proposed would be under the Department of the Air Force.

“Space is so integral to everything we do in the Air Force,” said James. “We want to integrate, not disintegrate.”

Doug Loverro, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said it makes sense for Mattis to engage the Defense Policy Board. “The policy board is the right place for this to be discussed along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. Strategic Command,” he told SpaceNews.

“Most people don’t understand the role of the policy arm of the Pentagon, but it is the primary arm of the Office of the Secretary of Defense for advising the SecDef on any policy matters both internal and external to the DoD,” said Loverro.

Board member Wanda Austin is the former CEO of The Aerospace Corporation and would be the most knowledgeable about space technology. Former Defense Secretary William Perry has extensive experience in space matters, and he serves on many industry advisory boards that execute space programs, Loverro noted. Frank Miller led national security space activities for the Bush White House. Rudy de Leon was acting undersecretary of the Air Force, and Jane Harman oversaw space intelligence programs on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “So while none of them have deep detailed space organizational knowledge, they understand the subject matter.”

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