April 12 (UPI) -- Top Defense Department officials have detailed plans to develop the Space Force, including a massive network of satellites, recognizing that the "status quo is not sufficient" to confront adversaries in outer space.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan on Thursday appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee with Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson; and Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command.
For the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, Shanahan asked the committee to authorize the U.S. Space Force in the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
"America has enduring interests in space," Shanahan said. "And just as the U.S. Navy ensures freedom of navigation of the seas, America's Space Force must now ensure the freedom to navigate the stars."
In March, the Defense Department requested $143.3 billion for space-based defenses out of a total $718.3 billion in a strategy that "fully recognizes that future wars will be waged not just in the air, on the land, and at sea, but also in space and cyberspace, increasing the complexity of warfare. It modernizes capabilities across all warfighting domains to enhance lethality."
Specifically, it would cost $200 billion over five years to develop the Space Force.
Although the United States remains dominant in space, including from a military perspective, the officials warned that adversaries Russia and China are gaining ground.
In April, high-level officials testified before the committee on the importance of increased defense spending in the Pentagon's budget request for next year.
"Last month, I testified before you that China and Russia had developed capabilities to contest our ability to operate in all domains," Dunford said Thursday. "This includes space, which is now a fully contested warfighting domain along with sea, air, land and cyberspace."
The two nations,recognizing the benefits of space in the economic and military spheres, have worked to challenge the United States in space. That includes reorganizing their armed forces and developing robust space-based capabilities, included based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
"These steps provide the ability to more effectively target U.S. and allied forces," Dunford said. "China and Russia are also capable of searching, tracking and characterizing satellites in all Earth orbits in support of space and counter-space operations."
Shanahan said they are concerned "the next major conflict may be won or lost in space."
"There is widespread agreement the status quo is not sufficient: Change is required to stay ahead," Shanahan told the senators. "Approached correctly, this is an opportunity for a generational improvement. Future space capabilities should be system engineered from the start to include launch, commercial innovation, the network, the satellite, the ground segment, user equipment and cybersecurity."
The United States, he said, needs to change its organizational setup.
"Space is no longer a sanctuary," Dunford said. "Traditionally, the Air Force has been the principal driver of our efforts in space ... and our capabilities in space are second to none. But our current organizational construct was built before space was a contested domain."
In February, Trump signed a directive ordering the Department of Defense to to put together legislation to present to Congress to create the Space Force, initially as part of the Air Force.
The Defense Department has decided to establish U.S. Space Command for operational control, and then establish the U.S. Space Force.
"Taking the next step to create the Space Force will allow us to develop and maintain a singular focus on developing the people, the capabilities, the doctrine and the culture we'll need to maintain our competitive advantage in space," Dunford said.
That includes creating the Space Development Agency, which will develop and deliver the next generation of space-based communications and Earth observation. Existing organizations continue current efforts, Shanahan told the senators.
"We need to outpace the threats in space, not simply keep up with them," the secretary said. "Because our current system isn't organized to move fast enough, the Space Force will consolidate, elevate, and focus our efforts for results."
SDA is first planning a "transport layer" of about 650 small, inexpensive low-Earth orbit satellites that will transfer data between space and ground assets. The first one could be in orbit as early as 2022.
Then a "tracking layer" of about 200 satellites to provide global coverage of advanced missile threats using infrared imaging could be rolled out. They would use radar, electro-optical/infrared cameras and signals intelligence to sense and monitor objects on Earth.
"Other layers will follow on deployment timelines of two years and perhaps even less," Fred Kennedy, the newly named director of the office, said Wednesday at Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"We wish to emulate the smartphone and computer industry's approach to upgrades," Kennedy said. We are not building exquisite systems intended to last a decade or more. To the extent possible, we will be buying and building commodities which we can then replace or upgrade on short order."
The "advanced maneuvering vehicles" also would be developed. Kennedy said they could include an advanced space plane like a X-37 successor or another spacecraft. It could be able to move between the Earth and the moon more quickly and efficiently than an adversary's weapons.
Wilson, whose Space Force would be a separate branch of the Air Force, has criticized the plans.
"Launching hundreds of cheap satellites into theater as a substitute for the complex architectures where we provide key capabilities to the war fighter will result in failure on America's worst day if relied upon alone," she said.
Kennedy said that Wilson is addressing how to balance funding for proliferated constellations of smaller satellites with the more costly technologies needed to "protect and defend" large satellites.
If there is a space-based infrared system in a geosynchronous satellite, "you're not going to just write it off, you're going to say how can I protect and defend that system," Kennedy said. But if there are less-expensive proliferated satellites in LEO [low-earth orbit} that can also conduct the missile warning functions that SBIRS does, "we may write that off to a certain extent."
He added: "I'd like to give our adversary that problem to go solve."
Legislators were skeptical about plans to create a new military branch.
And Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the committee's top Democrat, said changes need to be made but "creating a new branch of the armed forces for the first time in 70 years is not a decision Congress should make lightly. Such a major reorganization would have long-lasting consequences, both intended and unintended."