Space Force gets cautious OK in House defense spending bill

The House 2020 defense spending bill would provide $15 million, a fraction of Trump’s $72.5 million request

Demonstrators hold up signs protesting a possible Space Force before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on April 11, 2019, in Washington, DC. The House Defense Appropriations subcommittee provided $15 million in its defense spending bill, much lower than the administration’s request for $72.5 million. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

The House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee has signaled that it will entertain, but constrain, President Donald Trump’s plans to create a new military service that focuses exclusively on space.

The House’s version of the fiscal 2020 defense spending bill would provide $15 million for Space Force operations and maintenance, almost $57.5 million lower than the administration’s $72.5 million request, according to the committee report released Monday.

[Trump makes Space Force official. There’s already a Netflix parody]

The funding is buried within the massive $690.2 billion bill, but shows the Democratic-controlled House’s caution in proceeding with Trump’s much-touted desire to establish Space Force, which requires congressional authorization.

The funding cut in the House bill, which the Appropriations Committee will mark up Tuesday, could portend a battle when the House Armed Services Committee considers the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill next month.

House Armed Services Adam Smith of Washington said in March that he “cannot imagine that what [the White House] proposed is going to happen.”

[Senators remain skeptical of Space Force]

The Senate Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, is considering its own version of the massive Pentagon policy measure this week. Chairman James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., is one of Trump’s key allies on the Hill but has not publicly endorsed Space Force.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said simply “we’ll see,” when asked if the committee this year would authorize Space Force.

Meanwhile, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, whose home state of Alabama includes the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, has been lukewarm on the idea of Space Force.

The House in 2017 included in its fiscal 2018 defense authorization bill a bipartisan proposal to establish Space Corps, a space-focused military service within the Air Force. The Senate ultimately denied that proposal, which was not included in the final bill.

There is robust bipartisan agreement that the United States should focus more of its military attention on space, a domain where other countries have the capacity to threaten Americans’ daily digital lives by destroying U.S. satellites. Lawmakers, though, don’t agree on how to solve the problem.

The House Appropriations Committee supports establishing a Unified Combatant Command for space, a headquarters of sorts that would lead the Pentagon’s space operations, according to the report on the bill. The panel would fund the creation of the Space Development Agency, a new office that would lead the Pentagon’s space acquisition.

The committee’s report, though, says the White House’s Space Force plan “leaves many unanswered questions and lacks important details and supporting analysis to justify the proposed size, scope, cost, roles, and authorities for the new military service.”

Still, the committee would provide $15 million so the Pentagon can “examine and refine alternative organizational options that will streamline the management and decision-making process and minimize overhead cost and bureaucracy.”

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