Congressional Inaction a Threat to Space Readiness

Congress is not expected to pass a 2016 budget by October 1, the start of the federal fiscal year. Failure to do so will delay critical programs and hurt space capabilities, according to General John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command.

As cited in Space News, this failure to pass a budget would put over $5 billion in budgetary limbo. These budget dollars are reportedly targeted at countering Russia’s and China’s growing capabilities, particularly in the areas of surveillance and counter-measures.

General Hyten, quoted in the article:

“We have some significant space recommendations that are in the ‘16 president’s budget,” Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, said during a press briefing Sept. 16 here at the annual Air Force Association tech expo. “Many of those are classified. [We] wouldn’t be able to get started on those. All of those would get put on hold. It’s just bad.”

Congress will almost certainly default to a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR), which would fund federal activities at 2015 spending levels through December. Yet Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has stated publicly that a CR is actually worse for the Air Force than the Budget Control Act caps (also known as sequestration) would be, since the CR provides no clarity regarding future spending levels that would support critical space protection. A CR also sets the FY16 funding level below what would have been allowed under the Budget Control Act caps.

Hyten’s comments were echoed by statements from U.S Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who decried the recent years of budgetary paralysis as a “terribly disgraceful era of budget turmoil:”

Time is of the essence, and we can’t move at Washington speed or bureaucracy speed when the innovators and the companies who are doing the innovations are moving much faster,” he told reporters at a DARPA conference last week. “Carefully and slowly don’t have to be the same thing.”

Some of the requested spending is classified. Among the unclassified Air Force programs, some currently at risk include:

  • Space Fence, a next-generation space surveillance radar designed to improve situational space awareness;
  • The Space Based Space Surveillance satellite follow-on, designed to better track objects in geostationary orbit;
  • The Joint Space Operations Center Mission System, a three-phase hardware and software upgrade intended to improve the command and control of space forces;
  • Pathfinder Efforts, through which the DoD is developing innovative ways to efficiently acquire commercial SATCOM.

These DoD space programs represent critical decisions that affect the road ahead for military space. A newly competitive and highly contested landscape requires that we update and ensure our space capabilities remain effective and secure. Planning for these programs has already taken years, and a further delay now due to political gridlock on Capitol Hill would be detrimental to national security in space.

It’s difficult to imagine Congress passing a budget within the week, but the longer another CR lasts, the worse the effect on many of our critical national security space interests. We urge legislators to rediscover the ability to work together, and to agree on a 2016 budget as quickly as possible. Until then, some of our country’s most critical developments in space will be on hold.

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