The House and Senate Armed Services Committees recently completed their respective markups of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House version requires the Pentagon to establish the “U.S. Space Corps” – the first new military branch in 70 years – by January 1, 2019. The proposed Space Corps would fall under the secretary of the U.S. Air Force, but would have a separate and equal member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, similar to how the Marine Corps is organized under the Department of the Navy.
Supporters of the bill argue that a military branch devoted to space is a necessary response to the United States’ heavy dependence upon satellites for military operations and intelligence. The tracking and defense of U.S. satellites and assets in space is critical, as countries like China and Russia have become increasingly competitive in their space capabilities.
Currently, most military space operations and procurement activities take place under the Air Force. The House bill proposes to create the Space Corps by carving out existing Air Force space activities, with programs, personnel and installations at the Air Force Space Command and other bases likely transferring to the new Space Corps.
A new Space Corps military branch could mean changes on the horizon for federal contractors performing satellite and other space-related work. First, contractors may be required to comply with new procurement policies or supplemental FAR regulations under the Space Corps. Contractors accustomed to the Air Force FAR Supplement may need to revise their internal company procurement procedures and policies in order to contract with the proposed new military branch.
Second, space contractors will benefit from the addition of a new member on the Joint Chiefs of Staff who advocates exclusively for space operations. Such advocacy should lead to increased attention to and resources for existing and future space programs. Space programs also would enjoy a level playing field in internal Pentagon budget discussions, rather than having to be balanced against other service requirements under the Air Force.
Third, the new Space Corps could be responsible for significant contracting opportunities. In 2016, the Air Force obligated at least $3.9 billion to contracts with NAICS codes related to space. Space-related contracts and activities under other military branches may migrate to a new Space Corps as well.
Although the Senate similarly recognizes a need for increased attention on space, the Senate version of the NDAA does not include a separate Space Corps. Instead, it establishes a new Pentagon position of Chief Information Warfare Officer to “assume responsibility for all matters relating to the information environment of the DOD, including cybersecurity and cyber warfare, space and space launch systems, electronic warfare, and the electromagnetic spectrum.”
The House and Senate will proceed with debate and will confer in order to reconcile and pass a final NDAA by September 30. With resistance from the White House, the Air Force, and some lawmakers to the proposed Space Corps, whether the final NDAA legislation will include the establishment of this new military branch is unclear. Reed Smith will continue to monitor the NDAA as it proceeds through Congress for voting.