Pentagon Appears to Concede USAF Point in Space Force Tug-of-War

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson delivers her the “Air Force We Need,” address during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Sept. 17, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Photo/Wayne Clark

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Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson delivers her the “Air Force We Need,” address during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Sept. 17, 2018.

Days after the Air Force secretary fired off a memo, the deputy defense secretary appeared to back off a plan for a new acquisition agency.

The Pentagon might not need a new satellite-acquisition agency after all.

On Friday, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson sent Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan a 16-page memo pushing back on various aspects of his plans to reshape how the U.S. military buys and operates its space assets. Among other things, Wilson opposed a proposal to create a Space Development Agency and suggested instead that the work be done by the Air Force’s Space Rapid Capabilities Office.

“This office exists now and has the personnel and expertise to develop and field the warfighting capabilities needed by U.S. Space Command,” Wilson wrote.

On Wednesday, Shanahan appeared to concede.

“If there was a way to replicate the RCO, put it on steroids, scale it, then that would be, in my mind, the Space Development Agency,” he said during a question-and-answer session following a speech at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Space Cyber conference in National Harbor, Maryland. “The most exciting thing in all of this is that there are amazing colonels that have so many ideas where we’re standing on the arrows and we have to break that loose.”

Shanahan also said there is no playbook for creating a new branch of the military.  

“It’s been since 1947 that an exercise like this has been undertaken, so the playbook is out of date,” he said. “We don’t really have something that we can go and pull off of the shelf. For a lot of us that don’t have the deep appreciation of how the department is wired, it’s intimidating. For other folks, it’s ‘how do we make sure we preserve the important capability that we rely on every single day.’”

Shanahan did not address Wilson’s call not to create a new assistant secretary for space position at the Pentagon. He also did not say whether the National Reconnaissance Office would be part of the Space Force, something championed by Wilson.

While Shanahan acknowledged that there would be disagreements as defense leaders prepare their Space Force proposal for Congress, Shanahan said they would get through the process together.

“There will be some hand-wringing and arm-wrestling, but one thing I can say about working in the Department of Defense is [it’s] the best team I’ve ever been on,” he said. “We’re a team and we’ll solve it as a team.”

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