—Rachel S. Cohen
Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, speaks at a breakfast event as part of the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 17, 2018. Air Force photo by Dave Grim
The Air Force’s fiscal 2020 spending on space programs will look similar to the funding profiles included in the fiscal 2019 budget, the vice commander of Air Force Space Command said at a Jan. 25 AFA Mitchell Institute breakfast.
“That was $6.9 billion of new investment across the future years defense program in the ’19 budget. On top of that, we repurposed an additional $5 billion to focus on space warfighting-related activities,” Lt. Gen. David Thompson said. “So while it was $6.9 billion of new investment, it was really $12 billion refocused on what it meant to do space as a warfighting domain.”
“I would tell you, probably an early indicator, you can expect that same focus and desire and expectation to continue that sort of investment … once the budget is delivered and becomes public here in the next month,” he added.
It’s unclear when the Defense Department will release its fiscal 2020 budget, which was originally expected in early February but then appeared to be derailed by the partial government shutdown, which ended late Jan. 25 under a three-week continuing resolution.
The Air Force aims to maintain space as a spending priority so US capabilities don’t fall behind, particularly while the Pentagon pivots to advanced technologies that are superior to those of Russia and China.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Thompson also emphasized that as the government enters the early stages of standing up US Space Command in 2019, it’s imperative not to interrupt regular operations.
“The final … details aren’t fully complete, but the expectation is here early in the new year, it is going to be established,” he said, going on to list his top priorities for the rollout. “The first thing is, while we’re in this process, continue to provide the capabilities and the support that we do every single day through that transition.”
Another main concern is to ensure the command is truly operating as a major organization, he continued. From the first day, the US Space Command staff will need to be large enough to be effective, he said, even though it will take years of work in the Pentagon and with Congress to make the command fully capable.
“As soon as that thing is established, there’s going to be a huge demand signal on that first commander,” Thompson said. “How they interact every day with the other combatant commanders, how they’re involved in what I’ll call the defense and national security process.”
In addition to the Pentagon’s concurrent planning for a Space Force and other broad reorganizations within Air Force Space Command, the Air Force’s space enterprise is taking part in multiple efforts that will shape America’s ability to defend and wage war beyond Earth.
For example, Maj. Gen. Kim Crider, the Air Force’s former chief data officer, is now the top Reservist assisting Gen. Jay Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command. One of her first tasks is to craft a space data strategy and make sure it dovetails with the service-wide data strategy she recently oversaw, according to Thompson.
However, he declined to discuss what options the Air Force is considering as part of Pentagon research chief Mike Griffin’s effort to create a Space Development Agency. That organization could overlap with or take over aspects of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s research and development, but exactly how is still murky.
“A lot of it is, what do we have going on today?” Thompson said. “How do we ensure two things: first of all, we’re not stepping on each other, we’re not duplicating [efforts]. … Certainly the hope would be whatever goes on, goes on in a complementary fashion against the department’s highest priorities.”
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