Senate panel advances Trump’s Space Force

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A key Senate panel is giving its blessing to President Trump’s plan to create a Space Force.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), advanced Wednesday, would authorize $72.4 million to create Space Force as a branch of the military under the purview of the Department of the Air Force, the committee announced Thursday.

Though the bill would create Space Force, it does make several changes to the administration’s proposal in an effort to address concerns about issues such as overhead.

“We know space is a war-fighting domain, so we are standing up a U.S. Space Force in the Air Force. Our strategy will set the Space Force up for success now and in the future, minimizing bureaucracy in the force,” committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a statement read by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) at a press conference Inhofe was unable to attend.

The inclusion of Space Force in the Senate’s annual defense policy bill comes as a surprise after a hearing in which members on both sides of the aisle expressed deep skepticism on the need for a new military branch dedicated to space.

But senior committee aides told reporters Thursday that the committee decided to move forward on the proposal after the hearing identified three areas Space Force was seeking to address: acquisition, space as a war fighting domain and consolidating disparate government agencies.

“We got a lot of really good information from the members there on how we could do this without cost, bureaucracy increased,” an aide said of the hearing. “What we’ve been working on since, I think we’ve integrated the intent of what the secretary presented, and I think we’ve got a really good path ahead for not only a U.S. Space Force, but space acquisition long-term.”

The Senate has been seen as the biggest hurdle to the Trump’s Space Force proposal. A 2017 proposal that passed the House for a space corps did not come to fruition because of fierce bipartisan Senate opposition.

The administration has argued a Space Force is necessary to counter threats from Russia and China. Its proposal called for the branch to sit under the Department of the Air Force in a relationship similar to the one the Marine Corps has with the Department of the Navy.

Senators have generally agreed the military needs to place a greater focus on space, but have questioned whether a new branch of the military is the best way to do so.

There were also specific concerns the administration’s proposal would have been too top-heavy.

The Senate NDAA’s seeks to address that concern by scuttling the proposal for a new under secretary for space. The new branch would also only draw from Air Force personnel, though the bill would “put it on the path” to draw from other services as well.

The bill does create a new commander for Space Force, but initially gives the general a dual hat to also serve as commander of U.S. Space Command, which the administration is also creating. After a year, the commanders of Space Force and Space Command would be two separate people.

The commander of Space Force also wouldn’t join the Joint Chiefs of Staff until after a year.

“I think it’s responsible to take this thing at a pace that make sense,” an aide said. “So we give them a year to get this all together and stood up and figured out, and they may want to tweak something within that year.”

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