May 22, 2024

After years of growth, the young Space Force may be about to see its first funding cuts under its own budget plan unveiled on Monday — but service officials insist it’s still on good footing to address rising threats in low earth orbit.

The service, which was established in 2019, is requesting $29.4 billion for fiscal 2025, about $600 million — or 2% — less than the $30 billion it proposed in the last budget request. Congress will still have to debate and eventually approve a final budget for the service, and so far, lawmakers haven’t even passed the previous budget.

The potential cuts come as threats continue to proliferate in space, with the White House reporting that Russia may be pursuing a nuclear space weapon and China advancing with anti-satellite capabilities and a space plane.

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“So the net effect of the constraints that we have [is] that we’re not moving forward as fast as I’d like to in space, but we’re still moving forward,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters during a roundtable on Friday. “And you’re going to actually see a small decrease in that number for the Space Force.”

Until Monday, growth in the service budget was more the norm. The $30 billion the Space Force asked for in fiscal 2024 was a more than $5 billion increase from the previous year’s request, the largest in the service’s history at that point.

“This is the first time the U.S. Space Force budget has decreased since the U.S. Space Force has had its own budget established in FY21,” Maj. Annabel Monroe, an Air Force spokeswoman, said in a statement to Military.com.

The 2% decrease in the Space Force’s 2025 budget request is due to several factors. One of those is that fewer launches will be scheduled in the next fiscal year.

“Launches have slipped because payloads have not been ready,” Kendall said. The anticipated fewer satellite and rocket launches means less funding will be necessary for them.

The Space Force also proposes a decrease from fiscal 2024 in the research, development, test and evaluation section of its budget. According to the budget documents, the service is asking for $18.7 billion in 2025, as compared to the $19.1 billion it sought last year. It also reduced the procurement budget from $4.7 billion down to $4.3 billion.

But, notably, the Space Force is still spending money on its people. It hopes to increase the size of the force from 9,400 Guardians in 2024 to 9,800 in the 2025 budget request.

Additionally, the Space Force is also seeking $25 million in selective retention bonuses and initial enlistment bonuses, as well as $5.7 million for assignment incentive pay.

Unlike the Air Force, the Space Force has not had to struggle with recruiting challenges and often has no problem filling the small number of spots available each year.

News of the decrease in the Space Force budget comes as global tensions in the Pacific, Middle East and Europe increase and threats in space become more public.

Last month, the White House announced that Russia had a “troubling” emerging, anti-satellite weapon that could severely disrupt U.S. military and civilian operations in outer space. Some U.S. government officials suspect the system may be nuclear, a prospect that raises concerns that the Russian government could not only disable strategic satellites in orbit, but, in turn, deal a major blow to the U.S. economy by degrading both government and civilian space-based operations, Military.com wrote.

Additionally, China continues to be the Department of the Air Force’s overwhelming focus.

In 2007, China fired a ballistic missile, destroying its own satellite and creating a cloud of more than 3,000 pieces of space debris, the largest ever tracked, according to the nonprofit Secure World Foundation.

A 2021 threat report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence indicated that “China has ground-based lasers capable of blinding or damaging optical sensors on low-altitude satellites,” according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Last year, China deployed its highly secretive space plane into outer space for the third time. It was just one day before the Space Force’s own space plane, the X-37B, was set to launch.

“We’ve really got a problem with space,” Kendall told reporters on Friday. “China has fielded a combination of anti-satellite capabilities and space-based targeting capabilities. So they’re threatening our space assets and they’re threatening our joint force, and we’ve got to respond to that.”

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