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By Debbie Gregory.

Just how much should be budgeted to create the Space Force military branch championed by President Trump? The estimates offered up by senior defense officials are not even close.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan believes the price tag will come in a “single digit, not a double-digit” billions of dollars. “It might be lower than $5” billion, he said, although he did not specify what time frame that estimate would cover.

But Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has estimated that standing up a Space Force and a new combatant command for space warfare would cost about $13 billion over five years.

“Our cost estimate that we gave to a lot of people in the Pentagon in September was the cost of a fully-fledged, stand-alone department and also a unified combatant command,” Wilson said. “The president is going to be making some decisions to put forward a proposal in concert with his fiscal year 2020 budget proposal that will go to the Congress in February. The costs will be really based on what are the elements in the model in that proposal.”

Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, estimated it would cost the Pentagon an additional $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion over five years to stand up a new service, based on the assumption that more than 96 percent of the cost would be covered from existing budget accounts within DoD. Harrison’s numbers, however, are hard to compare directly with Wilson’s because they do not include costly items that she put into her proposal, such as a Space Command and additional programs and people needed to fight rising space rivals China and Russia.

The Pentagon’s Initial Plan for the Space Force

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By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Space Force,  a proposed branch of the United States Armed Forces which is intended to have control over military operations in outer space, will include uniformed service members drawn from the Air Force, Army and Navy.

According to a Department of Defense proposal, the Space Force would absorb Air Force Space Command, the Army’s 1st Space Brigade, the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and Naval Satellite Operations Center.

Installations and facilities would remain within their current services until the Space Force achieves an appropriate operating capability.

The National Reconnaissance Office would not be immediately merged in, although integration could gradually occur.

The missions of the Space Force would include space situational advantage; battle management command and control of space forces; space lift and range operations; space support to nuclear command and control; missile warning; satellite communications and position, navigation and timing.

Six recommendations laid out by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan,  the Pentagon’s point person responsible for formulating a plan to implement a Space Force, include language that:

  • Guides the creation of a unified space command to be known as U.S. Space Command
  • Gives direction on an legislative proposal for a Space Force
  • Calls for creating a funding plan in the fiscal year 2020 budget for a Space Force
  • Outlines an interagency authorities review
  • Establishes joint Space Development Agency for technology procurement
  • Strengthens the relationship between military space and the intelligence community

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who formerly opposed separating the Air Force’s space functions from the service, now says she supports Trump’s Space Force plan.

The National Space Council is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.

By Debbie Gregory.

“AQ Delta” is the U.S. Air Force’s new office that will streamline its weapons, platforms and networks procurement system.

Under Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper, the acquisition process will identify programs that will keep the acquisition process running smoothly.

Dr. Roper is responsible for and oversees Air Force research, development and acquisition activities totaling an annual budget in excess of $40 billion for more than 465 acquisition programs.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced the program during a May 4th town hall at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

Roper had previously spearheaded the creation of the Strategic Capabilities Office, a cornerstone of the Third Offset initiative, which envisioned a modern arsenal of swarming unmanned air vehicles, hypersonic weapons and autonomous systems. During his tenure as SCO Director, Dr. Roper served on the Department’s 2018 National Defense Strategy Steering Group, Cloud Executive Steering Group and Defense Modernization Team. That office now has an uncertain future since Roper’s departure in February.

Wilson has touted the Air Force’s progress in improving its procurement approach, often pointing to additional acquisition authorities, rapid prototyping endeavors and even the service’s “Light Attack experiment” ongoing at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.

Accelerating how the Air Force acquires new weapons isn’t the only item on the agenda; the service is rethinking maintenance as well.

Roper has hinted that the Air Force may be more open to competing sustainment or upgrade contracts, allowing additional companies to compete for upgrades on current programs, which are often automatically dedicated to the firm that originated them.

“I would like to be able for a system to continually compete, replace and upgrade, all the different components,” Roper said earlier this month.

Wilson endorses the idea.

“In general, competition helps to drive up performance and drive down cost, and so competition works.”

By Debbie Gregory.

Despite the government’s lack of confidence in Boeing’s ability to deliver the KC-46 Pegasus military aerial refueling aircraft, Boeing has forecast delivery of 18 units by year’s end.

“Boeing has been overly optimistic in all of their scheduled reports,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the House Armed Services Committee. “One of our frustrations with Boeing is that they’re much more focused on their commercial activity than they are on getting this right for the Air Force.”

Boeing’s design was seen as relatively low risk as the tanker bid was based on a modified commercial 767 passenger jet. But delivery of the first KC-46 aircraft is expected to be more than a year late.

Boeing has 34 tankers in various phases of completion.

Before delivery can be made, Boeing must conduct flight tests to certify that:

  • The F-16 fighter and the C-17 transport jet are capable of receiving fuel from the tanker under all conditions;
  • The new tanker can be refueled by the older KC-135 tanker; and
  • The newly developed fix for the camera systems is operational.

The price tag for the development and production of 179 tankers is estimated to be $41 billion.

In the international marketplace, the delays gave an advantage to the KC-46’s competition, the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport. But the USAF had awarded the development contract to Boeing which, at the time,  was declared “the clear winner” under a formula that considered the bid prices, how well each of the planes met war-fighting needs and what it would cost to operate them over 40 years

The tanker features a new advanced refueling boom that extends 58 feet out from the rear of the aircraft, a rigid pipe with wings sprouting either side to make it maneuverable.

In contrast to the older KC-135 tankers currently in use by the Air Force today, the KC-46 the operator sits at a computer station behind the tanker’s cockpit instead of laying prone on their belly at the rear of the plane. The cameras provide the visuals rather than the operator having to look out a window at the receiving aircraft.

“When you are flying and fighting at night, the capabilities of the cameras are a game-changer,” said Sean Martin, the KC-46 chief boom operator. “On this airplane, it’s the same as daytime.”

By Debbie Gregory.

The contract for two refrigerator units that were destined for Air Force One has been canceled.

The $24 million contract would have provided two new “chiller” units that would have been installed in 2020. The current Air Force One planes have been in use since 1990, and are scheduled for replacement in 2024. Boeing reached a deal this year to build replacements for those two presidential airplanes for $3.9 billion.

That would have meant that the $24 million dollar chiller units were only going to be in use for four years.

The Air Force and White House Military Office decided to cancel the purchase until the new Boeing Air Force One planes are delivered, according to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. Wilson stressed that if the delivery of those planes is delayed, they will have to reconsider the possibility of replacement.

Technically speaking, any U.S. Air Force plane carrying the president becomes Air Force One, but the moniker usually refers to the two identical planes that have been specifically modified to meet the security and logistical needs of the commander-in-chief and his flying staff.

The refrigerators on Air Force One are required to carry 3,000 meals in order to feed passengers and crew for four weeks in case of an emergency that prevents the plane from landing.

The Air Force has said the refrigerators currently on board Air Force One are based on old technology and were designed for short-term food storage, and are increasingly failing in hot and humid environments.

Rep. Joe Courtney, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services subcommittee on sea power and projection forces, who had inquired about the refrigerator contract, praised the Air Force for terminating it, saying it “didn’t pass the smell test.”