Decoding the Pentagon’s holistic space budget approach

The White House’s 2017 budget request for national security space programs reflects the Defense Department’s commitment to resourcing the space domain to deter adversaries and achieve superiority throughout a conflict.

That commitment is reflected not only through individual programmatic investments into specific capabilities, but also through some of the unique mechanics of this year’s budgeting process.

This budget for national security space programs is arguably the most coordinated and organized in recent years.

Both the Defense Department and Congress have prioritized aligning the organization and management of the budget for national security space activities with the need to maintain the space enterprise through a contested and degraded environment.

In October 2015, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work designated Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James as the Principal DoD Space Advisor (PDSA). The intent was to evolve governance of the space enterprise to empower an independent and authoritative advocate for the priorities of the national security space mission, budget and strategy.

The PDSA, assisted by the office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation and an expanded Defense Space Council (that for the first time includes the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Missile Defense Agency and the Defense Information Systems Agency) now conducts an annual Space Strategic Posture Review to provide a comprehensive assessment and review of the budget submission of every entity within the space domain. The resulting budget provides enhanced visibility to the changes, priorities, challenges and risks in the space domain on a budgetary line item basis. Consistent with that objective, Congress officially mandated in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act that the budget submission reflect establishment of a unified major force program for national security space programs, with reporting requirements designed to provide effective oversight of the domain.

Last year Congress accepted the president’s request to create a new “Space Procurement, Air Force” appropriation account and even doubled the number of line items in that account throughout the congressional markup cycle. The 2017 budget request embraces this expanded accounting of procurement dollars by the Air Force.

Major space investments in the Air Force's FY17 budget

PROGRAMFY16 Projection for FY17FY17 Request
Advanced Extremely High Freuency$907,972,000$904,700,000
Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle$1,620,774,000$1,803,011,000
Space-based InFrared System$619,176,000$544,470,000
Wideband Global Satcom$109,513,000$127,900,000
Global Position System 3$412,327,000$176,000,000
Weather System Follow-on$109,623,000$119,000,000
Space-based Space Surveillance Follow-on$50,598,000$23,900,000
Operationally Responsive Space$0$7,900,000

The modifications the Defense Department has made to the organization and management of the national security space budget request continues progress towards a governance, programming and capability development construct that streamlines responsibility and execution of this critical mission. These changes bring us one step closer to the recommendations of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization (better known as The Space Commission), published over 15 years ago.

We should be encouraged by this renewed commitment to coordination and organization of the budget for national security space.

As the Defense Department responds to the strategic threat environment, the mechanics to resource the space domain as a combat zone on par with air, land and sea continue to evolve. This should enable longerterm strategic thinking and investments, centralized planning and carefully defined and coordinated requirements.

The consistency and visibility of an organized annual budget for national security space will better enable industry to understand the Defense Department’s strategic vision for the domain and offer innovative and efficient solutions to satisfy mission needs.

While leading voices in the Defense Department, the Air Force, Congress and industry have succeeded in elevating space on the national security agenda, it would be naïve to think that further improvement to governance and oversight is unnecessary in the face of committed adversaries.

Michael Tierney is partner at FiscalTrak, a comprehensive data analytics service for Defense, NASA and Homeland Security budgets, and vice president at Jacques and Associates, a full-service government relations and business development consulting firm. He can be reached at or

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