The Department of Defense is pushing back against an independent estimate claiming that it could cost up to $4.7 billion in one-time costs to establish a Space Force.
As proposed by the Trump Administration, the Space Force would be a separate military service located within the Air Force that would take over many of the various space-related functions of the other services.
A My 8 report from the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Trump Administration’s Space Force proposal would be priced anywhere from $1.8 billion to $4.7 billion in one-time start up costs. That’s significantly more than the $2 billion the administration says it will cost to launch Space Force over the next five years.
The CBO is a federal agency that provides independent budget and economic information for Congress.
The Department of Defense has pushed back on the CBO’s figures, as first reported by Space News. In a statement provided to C4ISRNET, Department of Defense spokesman Tom Crosson said the CBO estimates were not based on the department’s specific proposal.
“The CBO estimates are based on different assumptions than the DoD’s legislative proposal. The CBO did not consult with DoD or evaluate the DoD Space Force proposal. The Department proposed a lean organizational structure for the Space Force that avoids significant bureaucratic growth by leveraging existing Air Force capabilities," Crosson said.
At a May 14 hearing of the House Commerce committee’s aviation and space subcommittee, Air Force Space Command Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David D. Thompson made similar arguments about how Space Force would be able to take advantage of Air Force infrastructure to remain efficient.
“Space Force is (...) efficient because it also capitalizes on the support and infrastructure and other capabilities the Air Force already has,” Thompson said. “I think that the proposal that was put forward by the Department of Defense is the best course going forward for the department and the nation."
One explanation for the disparity between the administration’s estimates and the CBO’s is the lack of public details available about what the Space Force would actually look like.
The administration’s current space reform efforts would also create two other organizations as well as Space Force: a combatant command, U.S. Space Command and an agency in charge of space systems development and acquisition known as the Space Development Agency. The costs of both of those organizations are included in the CBO’s estimate.
In March, the administration claimed that it would cost just about $500 million annually to operate Space Force annually, but the CBO estimates that a new service located within the Air Force would cost somewhere between $820 million and $1.3 billion annually. Those figures do not include the one-time startup costs laid out by CBO, which range from $1.1 billion to $3 billion, or the costs associated with establishing and operating Space Command or the Space Development Agency.
The Trump administration’s 2020 budget request calls for $72 million to begin setting up Space Force. If Congress does decide to establish Space Force, it would be the first new branch of the military added since the Air Force was created in 1947.
Nathan Strout was the staff editor at C4ISRNET, where he covered the intelligence community.