Defense budget expert casts doubt on $13B Space Force estimate

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The Air Force’s $13 billion projection for the cost of President Trump’s desired Space Force appears to be an example of “malicious compliance,” a top defense budget expert said Thursday.

“I would say this is an example of malicious compliance,” Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told reporters Thursday. “We know there are folks in the Air Force that do not like this idea at all. And this cost estimate, it just really looks like they’re trying to come out with a high-ball estimate to shift the debate into how expensive this is going to be.”

A memo from Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson that was widely leaked this week estimated that the Space Force could cost $3 billion its first year and $10 over the following four years.

The memo, dated Aug. 14, also estimates the Space Force would need about 13,000 new personnel.

That breaks down into 2,426 people for headquarters personnel, 2,005 for direct reporting units and forward operating elements, 7,960 for Space Force elements and 653 for Space Command personnel.

Harrison said it appears to him that the Air Force arrived at the $13 billion figure by multiplying each of those numbers by $175,000, plus adding a $1 billion building to house the new Space Force.

Harrison said $175,000 for each person is not unreasonable. What was more suspect to him was the number of personnel the Air Force said is needed, which the memo does not explain.

Harrison also questioned why the military would need a new $1 billion building.

Further, he said, Wilson’s memo envisions Space Force in the broadest possible scope it could take. Rather than just taking the space forces from other military services, he said, her memo says Space Force should include space elements from the Missile Defense Agency, parts of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and parts of other intelligence agencies, parts of NASA and space duties from Department of Commerce.

“This is the highest estimate I think you could possibly come up with,” Harrison said.

At an Air Force Association conference Wednesday, Wilson told reporters she believes the $13 billion estimate is “conservative.”

Wilson opposed the idea of a separate branch of the military for space when Congress proposed a similar plan last year.

But since Trump’s push on Space Force, Wilson has refrained from criticizing the proposal, saying earlier this month that she is in “complete alignment” with the president.

“As airmen, we have a responsibility to develop a proposal for the president that is bold and that carries out his vision,” she said Monday during a speech at the Air Force Association conference.

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