President Donald Trump’s proposal to create a “space force” would cost nearly $13 billion over five years and require a sweeping reorganization of parts of the Pentagon and intelligence community — including shifting the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center in El Segundo, Calif., into the new military service — according to an internal Air Force memo.
The 15-page memo signed by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson offers the first official estimate of the near-term costs of building a sixth branch of the military to focus on fighting in outer space, and outlines the Air Force’s ideas for doing so.
The proposals differ significantly from those released last month by Patrick Shanahan, a deputy secretary of Defense, and suggest substantial infighting among the Pentagon’s top brass over how to build the new force.
The memo, which was reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, represents a fundamental shift for Wilson, who opposed creating a space force until Trump publicly embraced the concept in June. The Air Force, which now handles space-related issues at the Pentagon, could see its budget and responsibilities sharply cut by creating a separate space force.
“The president has clearly communicated his desire for a military department for space,” Wilson wrote in what appears to be an acknowledgement that she can no longer oppose the White House plan. “This proposal places the priority squarely on lethality and rapidly fielding space capabilities.”
But the Air Force plan, which includes shifting a major freestanding intelligence agency into the new service, is likely to run into heavy opposition from defenders of the status quo in Congress — which may be the point of the memo.
Details of the Air Force’s plan emerged on the same day that Wilson gave a speech on the state of the Air Force that called for a huge increase in fighter and bomber squadrons, adding ammunition to critics who say the service’s focus on traditional aerial combat causes it to under-emphasize space.
Trump began touting the space force to wild applause at political rallies this summer after he was lobbied by several members of Congress who had pushed the idea since 2016. They say the force is needed because Russia, China and other U.S. adversaries are building anti-satellite and other weapons that could threaten the U.S. military’s dominance in space.
Shifting the Space and Missile Systems Center to the new service would move more than 5,000 military and civilian personnel who now work for the Air Force to the new service. It has an unclassified annual budget of about $7 billion — out of a total Air Force budget of $8.5 billion for building and launching satellites and other space systems — and an unknown classified budget.
Only Congress can create a new military service alongside the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The legislative debate won’t begin until next year, when the administration has said it will send a formal legislative proposal to Capitol Hill.
But opponents will probably seize on the Air Force estimate that building the space force will cost $3.3 billion in the first year and $12.9 billion over five years as evidence that it would be too costly for a defense budget likely to be severely stretched in coming years.
The Air Force plan calls for creating a space force headquarters by 2020 and making it fully operational by the following year, headed by a secretary of the space force and a four-star uniformed chief of the service, who would join the current Joint Chiefs.
“We propose a Department of the Space Force constructed in the form of an equal military department with a headquarters containing a Secretariat and General Staff to support a Service Secretary and a Chief of Staff and necessary subordinate officers,” the memo says.
The headquarters is likely to be at the Pentagon. A proposed new U.S. Space Command will probably be at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, where the Air Force has a lower-level command, though no location is specified in the memo.
The memo estimates that the space force would add 13,044 personnel to Pentagon rolls, including more than 7,900 space force officers and enlisted service members. About 2,400 would be civilians and uniformed personnel at headquarters, while 2,600 more would be attached to a new space command or another existing command.
The memo calls for keeping all current space personnel in the Air Force and other services “until Congress establishes the new Department of the Space Force,” an approach that could delay cuts in Air Force operations.
The Air Force plan also proposes shifting the National Reconnaissance Office, an intelligence agency that is responsible for designing, launching and operating spy satellites, into the new service. The NRO is believed to have the largest budget of the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies.
In addition, all military space-related programs in the Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Advanced Projects Agency, NASA and several other agencies would transfer to the new branch.
Such a sweeping plan is likely to run into heavy opposition in Congress, from those agencies’ defenders and from those who want to keep the primary responsibility for space with the Air Force.
Shanahan, the deputy secretary of Defense, had suggested taking interim steps until Congress creates a standalone space force. He proposed creating a Space Development Agency to oversee satellite acquisition, and establishing a new top-level position in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
In a move to protect its turf, the Air Force memo recommends using its existing Space Rapid Capabilities Office for satellite acquisition until the space force is established.
“Our proposal avoids detours that do not support the president’s policy position,” Wilson wrote in the memo. “Moving programs to a temporary holding organization is not in line with the president’s intent.”
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