The House and Senate Armed Services committees want the Pentagon to better prepare for war in space, but there’s disagreement on how to do it.
From the Pentagon to Capitol Hill, everyone seems to agree military space projects are among the most important to U.S. national security. But they don’t agree on what they should do about it.
In their annual review of the Defense Department policy bill — known as the National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA — members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees want to overhaul the Pentagon’s approach to operations in space.
Senators want to create a new overseer — at the highest levels of the Pentagon — to run all things space, cyber and electronic warfare.
That new Chief Information Warfare Officer would be appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and report directly to the defense secretary, according to the Senate’s summary of their NDAA. He or she would “assume responsibility for all matters relating to the information environment of the DoD, including cybersecurity and cyber warfare, space and space launch systems, electronic warfare, and the electromagnetic spectrum.”
That’s a massive organizational shakeup. Right now, the Pentagon’s Chief Information Officer is the top civilian in charge of those informational warfare domains — as well as the more traditional back-office IT system responsibilities.
“What’s different about the Department of Defense, is there are things that the Chief Information Officer does that are not dissimilar to what CIOs at other federal agencies do,” Senate Armed Services committee aides said. “Then there’s the warfighting function — this information warfighting function that pertains to space control, cyber, electronic warfare, information assurance, spectrum management things that are very uniquely DOD-information warfare functions. The thinking became these are probably more than one job.
The CIO’s non-military functions would be assigned to the Chief Management Officer — a new position created in last year’s NDAA that will be established February 1, 2018, and whose roles and responsibilities are further outlined in this year’s bill.
Ideas abound about how the U.S. national security complex should adapt to an increasingly networked world. In the fiscal 2017 NDAA, for instance, Congress elevated Cyber Command to a full combatant command, but didn’t go as far as then-President Obama wanted in splitting it from the National Security Agency.
The proposed “CIWO” would integrate the Pentagon’s efforts across multiple domains.
“It’s really a recognition that cyberspace, space, and information have all kind of coalesced and have come to an area where they all are dominating the regime as a whole, but aren’t getting the level of focus that’s required from each individual service,” the SASC aides said.
But that will inevitably run into conflict with the House’s vision for the future of space. The House Armed Services Committee’s NDAA — which passed 60-1 just before midnight on Wednesday — carves out a separate Space Corps under the Air Force.
Much like the Marines Corps is a separate uniformed service that reports to the civilian leadership of the Navy, the Space Corps would be distinct from the Air Force but report to its secretary.
“We have the greatest air force the world has ever seen, because their number one mission when they come to work every day is air dominance … [but] you can’t have two number one missions,” the proposal’s champion, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala, said Wednesday. “If you want to make space professionals the best they can be, they need to come to work every day knowing space dominance is the number one mission. That culture can only be bred if we segregate them, properly resource them, educate and develop them.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee did not call for a Space Force in its version of the NDAA. Nor is the Senate the only one in divergence with the House. The Air Force is against a Space Corps as well. Service leaders say it’s not the time. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has said it needlessly adds “more boxes to the organization,” and outgoing Undersecretary Lisa Disbrow told Defense One, “now’s not the time.”
“I won’t say never, I think we should always keep our minds and our eyes open,” Disbrow said. “Right now it would be a distraction. The more urgent goal is to work on capabilities and enhancing our capabilities and acquiring the systems that we need.”
But that’s just a stall tactic, according to Rogers.
“It has been painfully apparent from the briefings that we’ve gotten from our general officers that both Russia and China have nearly caught us in space capabilities and are on the path to surpass us soon,” he said while fending off a challenge to the plan during the committee’s debate of the bill yesterday. “It would be legislative malpractice for us to delay this.”
Earlier this year, SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., proposed a new Asia-Pacific Stability Initiative to strengthen the U.S.’s military posture in the region.
He and his committee members followed through in their version of the NDAA. It sets up the initiative, but there are few details, leaving the space for the Pentagon and the rest of the administration to decide over the next year how — and in which countries — they want to engage.
“The intent here is to get the ball rolling,” committee aides said. “This is envisioned as a multi-year initiative not a one-off thing.”
It’s modeled after the European Reassurance Initiative, a set of military engagements with the European allies that Congress started funding in the wake of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and aggression toward Ukraine.
In Congress’s view, that quick-start initiative is here to stay. It’s been renamed the European Deterrence Initiative — to reflect its long-term intentions — and both committees moved its funding from the Overseas Contingency Operations fund into the base budget this year. Items in the base budget are seen as being more permanent.
It’s hard to tally up how much each committee wants the Pentagon to spend on that deterrence since the initiative is funded through pre-existing accounts, but HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said in his summary of the bill that the overall funding is increasing this year.
The NDAAs passed by both committees provide the opening salvos in the fight to fund these activities. Next they’ll need to conference and come up with a unified NDAA. But the budget passed by Appropriations Committees and full houses will ultimately determine how much money the Pentagon has to put toward new construction and engagement in Europe or the Pacific.