Congress gives DoD more money for space, with caveats

The 2022 spending bill added nearly $1.3 billion for US Space Force and Space Development Agency programs above what the Biden administration had requested

WASHINGTON — The fiscal year 2022 defense spending bill that Congress passed last week gives the Pentagon $728.5 billion, or $32.5 billion more than what was projected for 2021.

Military space programs have received a big boost. The owners have added nearly $1.3 billion for US Space Force and Space Development Agency projects beyond what the Biden administration requested.

President Biden is expected to sign the $1.5 trillion federal spending bill before current funding expires on March 15. The government has been operating under rolling resolutions since the start of fiscal year 2022 on October 1.

Congress added $1.3 billion for Space Force-run military space fund technology development projects, pays for an additional Global Positioning System satellite, increases spending on small launch services and spacecraft Space Development Agency (SDA) missile detection.

One of the largest appropriations inserted into the budget is a $550 million demonstration of missile tracking satellites to be developed by SDA for the United States Indo-Pacific military command.

“Threats are driving space spending,” said Peter Garretson, space and defense consultant and senior fellow at the US Foreign Policy Council. Recent Chinese demonstrations of advanced space technologies have not gone unnoticed, and there are growing concerns about Russian aggression, he said.

SDA is building an extensive mesh network of satellites in low Earth orbit to detect and track enemy missiles and to move data around the world. Increasing the agency’s budget is “absolutely the right decision at this point,” Garretson said. “I hope SDA with its multiple layers of satellites will really bring the DoD back into the game of rapid innovation and technology development.”

Congressional concerns

The funding being added to military space programs reflects concerns expressed by defense owners for years, said Mike Tierney, industry analyst at aerospace and defense consultancy Velos.

Year after year, Congress has “hammered the Department of Defense to make space a priority,” he said. With the 2022 bill rising, “they’re putting their money where their mouth is.”

But the spending bill also includes language critical of the DoD’s handling of space programs and calls for the Space Force to incorporate advanced commercial technologies into military systems, Tierney noted.

Homeowners, for example, previously secured funding for the Space Warfighting Analysis Center (SWAC), an organization created to design the military’s space architecture using digital models and simulations. The 2022 bill approved the DoD’s $37 million request for SWAC, but warns that “concerns persist that the analysis and decision-making process within Space Force is too complex and convoluted”.

In a report accompanying the defense spending bill, Congress calls for “clarification of the roles and responsibilities of senior civilian and uniformed leaders with space responsibilities” and an explanation of what space acquisition units do , including the SWAC, Space Development Agency, Space Rapid Capabilities Office, and Space Programs of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office Department.

Congress also appears frustrated with old-fashioned Space Force approaches to purchasing new systems that fail to take advantage of commercial innovations in areas such as communications, space domain awareness, and intelligence, surveillance, and acknowledgement.

The DoD and Space Force “have publicly championed a hybrid space architecture that includes a combination of government and commercial space vehicles and services,” the bill says, but the Space Force has been slow to prioritize commercial offerings. in its architecture. Congress is asking the DoD to submit a “strategy for integrating commercial satellites into its mission sets.”

Big boost for small launch, missile defense

The 2022 military expenditure bill added $70 million for small launch services, including $20 million for the Rocket Launch Systems program and $50 million slotted into a new program called Tactically Responsive Launch.

“That’s a huge sum for a small launch,” Tierney said. But that shouldn’t be a surprise. Over the past few years, there has been a constant drumbeat from Congress for the DoD to increase funding for small launch services, he said.

Small-launch companies like Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab have pushed for more DoD support, arguing that the DoD needs to maintain multiple commercial sources of launch services so it can respond in a crisis if, for example, the American satellites are damaged and new. these must be deployed on short notice.

The $70 million increase could create momentum for a small launch after “years and years of congressional action,” he said.

Of the $550 million added for the SDA missile tracking satellites, Tierney called it a major endorsement of the agency’s plan to use low Earth orbit satellites for critical military capabilities.

Initially, the Senate inserted $750 million for the Indo-Pacific protest, but the House pushed back. The fact that they ended up compromising on $550 million shows the impact of China’s hypersonic missile testing, Tierney said. “Congress is giving them a huge amount of money to go and pursue a priority national security mission.”

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