WASHINGTON — Following a 38% increase in its fiscal 2023 budget request, the U.S. Space Force expects the upward funding trajectory to continue next year, according to a senior official.
Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David Thompson said during an Oct. 25 Mitchell Institute event in Arlington, Va., that the service will require more resources as it looks to make its spacecraft and other systems more resilient and takes on tasks including space domain awareness and data exploitation.
“I can’t talk about the current budget process that we’re in, but you should not expect that emphasis and that understanding to change as we move into the future,” he said. “There’s tremendous need and tremendous opportunity for growth.”
Thompson said there has been strong support for the service from Congress and a recognition from the Biden administration.
“They’re providing the resources that we need to get after all of the missions — missions that we have to continue to do today, the pivot that we have to do to those more resilient architectures . . . missions that we didn’t do a decade ago that we now need to do to defend and protect our interests and capabilities,” he said.
In March, the Space Force requested $24.5 billion in fiscal 2023, up from $17.4 billion last year. Nearly half of that growth includes existing Department of Defense budget lines that transferred from elsewhere in the Pentagon. The proposal includes $15.8 billion for research and development and $3.6 billion to procure new capabilities.
Congress has yet to approve a defense spending package for the government fiscal year that started Oct. 1. The department is operating under a continuing resolution, which freezes funding at fiscal 2022 levels.
Thompson declined to discuss the details of the service’s fiscal 2024 budget request, which hasn’t been finalized by Pentagon leadership. An analysis of the Space Force’s future funding projections conducted by research firm Metrea Strategic Insights using publicly available data from the service’s budget justification documents shows that its topline request for next year could reach $27 billion.
‘Exploit, buy and build’
As Thompson described, near-term budgets will largely be driven by the service’s need to maintain its current capabilities while transitioning to satellites and ground systems that are protected against threats from adversaries including China. While it will take time to develop and field the architecture the Space Force ultimately wants, the service is pushing to deliver some upgrades by 2026.
To achieve greater resiliency, leaders at Space Systems Command, the service’s acquisition arm, developed an “exploit, buy and build” mantra, emphasizing that before building something new, the service should consider how it can better use its current systems and what commercial industry may already be developing.
Brig. Gen. Timothy Sejba, program executive officer for space domain awareness and combat power and battle management, command and control, said during an Oct. 19 Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association conference that this approach doesn’t mean the service won’t build new systems.
The demand for resiliency will likely lead to near-term budget and program decisions that prioritize leveraging existing capabilities, he said.
“We may have to make some tough choices as we look at what is required over the next three to four years to ensure our architecture is much more resilient going forward,” Sebja said.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.