Space Corps dropped from defense policy bill

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Congress will not create a new branch of the military dedicated to space this year, senior Armed Services Committee staffers said Wednesday.

Instead, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would require the Pentagon to conduct an independent study on the issue.

“The conference does not have Space Corps, but we have in the language for the deputy secretary of Defense to have [a federally-funded research and development center] not affiliated with the Air Force look at the long-term prospects of creating a military department to deal with space,” a senior House Armed Services Committee staffer said Wednesday.

Senior staffers for the House and Senate Armed Services committees who did not want to be identified briefed reporters on the contents of the compromise NDAA after bicameral conferees wrapped up negotiations on the bill.

The House-passed version of the NDAA would have created the so-called Space Corps, a new branch of the military dedicated to space. The Senate-passed bill, by contrast, would have banned its creation.

The Space Corps would have been housed under the Department of the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps falls under the Department of the Navy, but would have had its own budget and its own chief of staff.

Its duties, as described by the House-passed NDAA, would have been “protecting the interests of the United States in space; deterring aggression in, from, and through space; providing combat-ready space forces that enable the commanders of the combatant commands to fight and win wars; organizing, training, and equipping space forces; and conducting space operations of the Space Corps under the command of the Commander of the United States Space Command.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein opposed the plan.

All acknowledged the military needs to do better on space issues, but said creating the new branch would be premature and could just add more bureaucracy that ultimately hinders space operations.

Though the final NDAA does not create a Space Corps, the bill does make three main changes aimed at improving the military’s space operations, staffers said.

“The conferees took extraordinary steps in reforming the national security space,” the House committee staffer said. “Members of both committees have been concerned for some time about ensuring we are protecting, preserving and effectively managing the careers of the current space cadre in the Air Force.”

The changes include developing a model based on the Navy’s naval reactor community to help the Air Force develop, retain and advance the careers of the space cadre, the staffer said.

The second major change would streamline the acquisition process, the staffer said.

Finally, the bill would also eliminate the principal adviser for space, the Defense Space Council and the deputy chief of staff for space operations. Staffers said the committees felt the move would reduce unneeded layers of bureaucracy. 

“The members on a bipartisan basis — and this was a bipartisan provision that was in the House-passed bill — did not feel that those additional layers of decisionmaking bodies and personnel was actually solving the concerns we have with space and were leading to confusion and a lack of clarity,” the staffer said. “So we took the steps necessary, we thought were important, to streamline acquisition, protect the development of the space cadre and rationalize decisionmaking.”

Tags James Mattis National Defense Authorization Act Space Corps

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