Trump Administration Objects to Defense Bill Provisions on Space Corps, EELV Development


The Trump Administration and the House Armed Services Committee are on a collision course over four space- and rocket-related provisions in the fNational Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018).

Specifically, the administration is objecting to the following provisions:

  • the establishment of a separate space corps within the U.S. Air Force (USAF);
  • limitations on the funding of new rocket engines for the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program;
  • a prohibition on the Pentagon procurement of transponder services on commercial satellites launched on Russian rockets; and,
  • requirements that the Defense Department find multiple suppliers for individual components of solid rocket missile systems.

Supporters of the space corps believes it would allow the U.S. Air Force to better focus its space operations. The administration argues it needs more time to weight its options.

“As directed by the FY 2017 NDAA, the Administration is assessing a wide range of organizational options, including a Space Corps. The creation of a separate Space Corps, however, is premature at this time,” the administration said in a statement.

“Upon completion of these analyses, the Administration looks forward to working with Congress to implement military space organizational changes (while considering the budget implications) in a practical timeframe to best posture the Nation’s joint forces to meet the challenges of the 21st Century,” the statement added.

The NDAA’s provision on EELV’s would limit the U.S. Air Force’s spending to new rocket engines and modifications to existing launch vehicles. Congress wants the program focused on fielding a replacement for the Russian-produced RD-180 motors that power United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V booster.

Air Force officials want a broader program that would allow it to spend provide funds to companies developing new launch vehicles. For example, ULA is developing a new booster called Vulcan that is designed to replace Atlas V and the company’s heavy-lift (and very expensive) Delta IV rocket.

“The provision limits domestic competition, which will increase taxpayer costs by several billions of dollars through FY 2027 and stifle innovation,” the administration said in its statement. “It also ignores key recommendations of the Committee’s independent panel of experts, who proposed broad funding at the launch-system level.”

Another provision would prohibit the Defense Department from obtaining satellite services aboard spacecraft launched aboard Russian rockets.  The prohibition is designed to improve cyber security.

“For satellite communications services, three-quarters of services acquired today are from foreign-incorporated companies that make widespread use of international launch vehicles,” the administration said in opposing the provision.

A Congressional effort to expand the nation’s industrial base for large solid rocket motors also drew a strong objection from the Trump Administration. The provision is aimed at providing multiple sources for components of the missiles.

“The large solid rocket motor industrial base has many single sources for components and materials. In many cases, the quantities of systems, subsystems, or components or materials acquired by DOD are not sufficient to support multiple suppliers,” the administration said.

“In addition, if a second source for these materials is required, it would trigger requalification on not only the rocket motor, but also the entire missile. This would be cost prohibitive to DOD, totaling nearly $1 billion,” the statement added.

The administration’s full statements about space- and rocket-related provisions follow.

Statement of Administration Policy

H.R. 2810 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018
(Rep. Thornberry, R-TX, and Rep. Smith, D-WA)

Establishment of Space Corps in the Department of the Air Force: The Administration appreciates the Committee’s concerns with the organization and management of DOD’s space capabilities as reflected in section 1601, which calls for the establishment of a separate Space Corps within the Department of the Air Force. As the Secretary of Defense has testified, the Administration recognizes the criticality of our access to and use of space, and we understand the increasing threats posed to our continued use of space capabilities. As directed by the FY 2017 NDAA, the Administration is assessing a wide range of organizational options, including a Space Corps. The creation of a separate Space Corps, however, is premature at this time. Upon completion of these analyses, the Administration looks forward to working with Congress to implement military space organizational changes (while considering the budget implications) in a practical timeframe to best posture the Nation’s joint forces to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Modernization and Sustainment of Assured Access to Space: The Administration strongly objects to section 1615, which would restrict development of new space launch systems, including those whose development is significantly funded by industry, in exclusive favor of rocket engines and modifications to existing launch vehicles. The provision limits domestic competition, which will increase taxpayer costs by several billions of dollars through FY 2027 and stifle innovation. It also ignores key recommendations of the Committee’s independent panel of experts, who proposed broad funding at the launch-system level. The Administration’s innovative, agile approach has already saved taxpayers $300 million and is the quickest path to delivering modern, domestic, cost-effective launch capabilities that will support national security requirements for decades to come. This provision would make the Administration’s strategy impossible to execute, causing delays in transitioning from Russian engines and increased risks to continued assured access to space.

Foreign Commercial Satellite Services: Cybersecurity Threats and Launches: The Administration strongly objects to section 1612, which would limit the Department’s ability to procure satellite services from foreign entities. It also would prohibit entering into a contract for satellite services with any entity if such services will be provided using satellites launched from, or designed or manufactured in, a covered foreign country or by an entity controlled by the government of a covered foreign country, regardless of the location of the launch. For satellite communications services, three-quarters of services acquired today are from foreign-incorporated companies that make widespread use of international launch vehicles.

Industrial Base for Large Solid Rocket Motors and Related Technologies: The Administration strongly objects to section 1699, which would require the Secretary of Defense to pursue multiple sources for the various components of modern solid rocket missile systems. The large solid rocket motor industrial base has many single sources for components and materials. In many cases, the quantities of systems, subsystems, or components or materials acquired by DOD are not sufficient to support multiple suppliers. In addition, if a second source for these materials is required, it would trigger requalification on not only the rocket motor, but also the entire missile. This would be cost prohibitive to DOD, totaling nearly $1 billion.