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Air Force Secretary Lays Roadmap to a New Space Force

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson speaks Sept. 17 at the Air Space Cyber 2018 symposium in National Harbor, Md.
(Image: © USAF)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson on Friday delivered a proposal that details the responsibilities and structure of a future Space Force. In a speech on Monday at the Air Force Association's annual symposium, Wilson called the proposal "bold" and one that "carries out the president's vision."

Wilson's speech focused on the future of air warfare and did not discuss details of her Space Force recommendations. SpaceNews obtained a copy of the proposal.

Wilson's submitted the proposal Sept. 14 in response to a Sept. 10 directive from Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who asked Wilson and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin to each develop a concept for establishing a Space Development Agency as a new organization dedicated to space innovation and rapid technology development. [Trump's Space Force Plan Revealed by VP Mike Pence]

Wilson did far more than that. She put forth a concept for how to set up a Space Development Agency but also offered a comprehensive vision and detailed plan for how military space forces, programs and agencies could transition to a future Department of the Space Force if and when Congress approves it. Wilson also articulated a strategic vision for the Space Force and provided a rough estimate of the personnel and funding needed.

In her proposal, Wilson strenuously opposes an initiative by the White House to name an assistant secretary of defense for space. She insisted that the transition should minimize disruption and ensure space warfighting missions are not disrupted.

"This proposal establishes a clear mission, directly related to the strategic problem we are trying to solve. It preserves close ties to the warfighter, ensures strong authorities and avoids unnecessary delays and disruptions to ongoing programs," Wilson wrote.

Space Development Agency

Wilson suggested the Space Development Agency be assigned to the Air Force Space Rapid Capabilities Office, an organization that Congress already funded and that has authorities to experiment and prototype next-generation technology. Wilson sees the SDA as a natural evolution from the RCO. [The Most Dangerous Space Weapons Ever]  

The Space Development Agency would evolve to a "hybrid" organization with elements of the RCO and National Reconnaissance Office. The RCO, she noted, "exists now and has the personnel and expertise to meet the needs of U.S. Space Command."

Wilson strongly opposes the notion of an SDA as a Pentagon think tank with no direct connection to the military services that organize train, equip and "have the organizational strengths" to bring technologies to fruition. Her concept "contrasts sharply with an OSD-level technology policy organization that is far removed from operational needs, fielding and sustainment issues."

The SDA would be staffed by representatives from all services and government agencies, and it would be closely aligned with U.S. Space Command. The deputy director of the SDA, for example, could be dual-hatted as a director of operations at U.S. Space Command.

To ensure continuity in space efforts, existing programs would remain within each service until a new department is in place, "With the exception of space superiority and some enabling capabilities."

Wilson is insistent in her proposal that the portions of the intelligence community that support military space should be in the Space Force. She suggests the next director of the National Reconnaissance Office could serve simultaneously as the director of the Air Force RCO. "This would establish unity of command and deepen the connection between military space and the space elements of the intelligence community."

Department of the Space Force

If Congress provides the authority and resources to establish a Space Force headquarters in fiscal year 2020, "this would allow DoD to build the foundation of a new department," Wilson said, "allowing the Air Force to transfer personnel and programs in fiscal year 2021 after congressional approval."

This proposal, she said, "avoids detours that do not support the president's policy position to establish a new military department."

Wilson is against the appointment of an assistant secretary of defense for space, a move she suggests would be unnecessary and counterproductive. In his Sept. 10 directive, Shanahan directed the Pentagon's chief management officer to start the process of creating that office and coordinate with the White House Liaison Office, which will begin identifying candidates.

Establishing an assistant secretary of defense for space or a new defense bureaucracy or moving programs to a temporary holding organization "is not in line with the president's intent," Wilson wrote.

Wilson included in her proposal a list of missions and functions of the Space Force. This is the first time since President Trump directed the establishment of a space branch that any DoD official has explained what that force will do.

The Space Force would be "responsible for the preparation of forces necessary for the effective prosecution of war," Wilson wrote. It will "organize, train and equip and provide space forces for military operations." It also will develop tactics and doctrine for offensive and defensive space operations, including missile defense, and will be responsible to "gain and maintain space superiority."

Other Space Force missions: conduct space operations to enhance joint campaigns, provide combat support and joint space bases or other support that is not organic to the individual military services. It would also oversee "global integrated command and control for space operations."

Space Force size, budget

As a military department of equal status to the other services, the Space Force would have about 13,000 personnel, including a headquarters of about 2,400 with its own secretariat and general staff. Most of the force, about 10,000 people, would be satellite operators, threat analysts and forward deployed units.

Wilson estimated the Space Force budget for the first year should be about $3.3 billion, and $13 billion over five years. The first-year budget includes $425 million for a headquarters, $351 million for direct reporting units, $1.3 billion for space force elements, $114 million for combatant command personnel and $1 billion for combatant command military construction.

To avoid disruption, personnel should stay in their current service units until the Department of the Space Force is created, Wilson said.

The major components of the Space Force would include the Space Development Agency, the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, elements of Army Space and Missile Defense Command, and elements of the Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. Wilson stressed that the National Reconnaissance Office should be closely connected to the Space Force as well, and that "this action will not adversely affect the equities of the director of national intelligence and the intelligence community."

Wilson suggested the Space Force also should include some space activities of the Missile Defense Agency, the Strategic Capabilities Office, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Commerce's space traffic management office.

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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