Space Force: Spending at Warp Speed

Weekly WastebasketSpace Force: Spending at Warp SpeedTax dollars. To infinity and beyond.

National Security,  | Quick Take
Aug 16, 2018  | 6 min read | Print Article

It’s not the usual August doldrums here in Washington. For one thing, the Senate is in town for a rare late summer session. And of course the current state of politics is such that politicians, the press, and taxpayers all seem constantly poised to react to the latest trending matter on Twitter.

So when the Vice President made his big announcement about the new “Space Force” branch of the military we jumped on it here at TCS. There are almost no budget details that have been made publicly available. But here’s one thing we can promise you: the new Space Force will spend your money at “warp speed.”

Just to be clear, we believe that our military needs to be a world-wide leader in space. The military also believes that, as evidenced by the Air Force Space Command and Navy and Army space-related operations. Fact is, a completely separate branch of the military won’t necessarily help the U.S. lead in space. It will, however, create a lot of waste and duplication.

But that’s exactly what the president has directed and the Pentagon is acting to implement the creation of a sixth military service, the “Space Force.” This new service will join the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard in collectively making up the U.S. uniformed military.

What would the new Space Force do?

The new Space Force will “organize, train, and equip forces to protect national security interests in the physical domain of space.” As a completely new military service, there are both management and spending issues in play. Unlike the Special Operations Command, which was established in the early 1980s, the Space Force will not simply have service members from the other military branches assigned to it for operational purposes. Instead, Space Force will be responsible for establishing a new military structure, promotion system, and military culture. Even the most mundane aspects of this endeavor – where they will be based, what uniforms they will wear – are complicated and expensive.

Also the Pentagon’s official guidance indicates there will also be a new Department of the Space Force, co-equal with the Departments of Army, Navy (which includes two military services, the Navy and the Marine Corps), and the Air Force. With a complete lack of irony, the Pentagon guidance states they will establish an, “…affordable and efficient operating structure with accountable civilian oversight to provide service and support functions for the Space Force.” (Emphasis added.)

Spoiler alert: That’s actually going to involve a huge, ginormous, solar system-sized chunk of your tax dollars. This will in no way be an “affordable” exercise.

There is no official cost estimate.

Space-related functions are being addressed, mostly in a decentralized way, that could be better coordinated. But, in establishing a new Department of the Space Force the Pentagon is guaranteeing a huge new tab for taxpayers. Think about when the Army Air Forces was turned into the Air Force in 1947. The other services didn’t quit their aviation components. The same will be true with space.

How costly will a Department of Space Force be?

Well, for comparison, the President’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request for the Department of the Army is $182 billion. For the Department of the Navy (remember: this includes two military services) $194 billion. For the Department of the Air Force, $194 billion. Just averaging the costs of the three current departments: $190 billion to establish a new military service and the enormous bureaucracy of a new department. Even if you assume the new service takes personnel from the other services, there’s still going to be enormous costs associated with creating a new department. Besides, we know from history (again, see creation of Air Force) it won’t work that way.

The overall tab for Pentagon spending clocks in at roughly $700 billion. If you add another $190 billion to that, pretty soon you are pushing $900 billion per year in Pentagon spending. That’s going to blow a new black hole into the deficit and it’s nobody’s definition of affordable.

At last week’s press conference on this topic, Deputy Secretary of Defense Shanahan had this to say, “My boss [presumably the Secretary of Defense], Mick Mulvaney, [Director of the Office of Management and Budget], the President – the boss, every time I see him they’re like ‘don’t add any overhead’.”

Sorry Mr. Deputy Secretary, we think you may have failed that test.