Space Force Faces Disruptions Under Stopgap Spending Bill

a rocket creates a plume of smoke during a launch near the ocean

Falcon 9 launches the GPS III Space Vehicle 05 mission from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, June 17, 2021.

The Space Force finds itself constrained at the start of FY24, as a continuing resolution stands in the way of planned growth for both the fledgling service’s budget and end strength. The government has been operating at FY23 funding levels since the fiscal year began on October 1 because Congress has been unable to pass a final FY24 budget. Although the Pentagon is adept at operating under CRs, which have become the norm in the U.S. defense budget process, the stopgap spending bills remain a headache for budget planners.

The Space Force’s FY24 request sought to add 800 personnel in FY24 to help support the service’s growing responsibilities. The plus-up would result in a total end strength of 9,400, but that increase is on hold pending congressional approval of the final budget.

A continued trend of acquisition spending growth is also paused under the stopgap spending bill. The Space Force’s budget has grown since its inception as more programs and initiatives fall under its purview, particularly in the research domain. The FY24 request aimed to increase Space Force acquisition spending by 13.5 percent compared to the FY23 enacted level, but that growth is on hold under the CR. That extra acquisition funding would support a 42 percent jump for prototyping and a 10 percent increase for system development and demonstration. Space launches are also disrupted by the lack of a final budget, and the National Security Space Launch program faces a $1.1 billion shortfall for the under the current CR.

A major initiative impacted by the CR is the Space Development Agency’s Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture, a planned multi-layer satellite constellation that will provide missile warning, communications, and other capabilities. The Transport Layer, which will provide communications and data networking, faces a $1 billion shortfall under a CR due to planned funding growth for Tranche 1 and Tranche 2 development in FY24. Tranche 1 satellite are being built by Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and York Space Systems. Tranche 2 is broken out into multiple phases, and all three companies have been awarded contracts for Tranche 2 satellites as well.

infographic showing planned satellite constellations

The Space Development Agency’s planned Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA) – Space Development Agency

The SDA’s missile warning and tracking layer is also short $480.1 million under the CR. The Space Force requested $1.3 billion for Resilient Missile Warning Missile Tracking – Low Earth Orbit in FY24, up from $786.3 million the previous year. This program element supports the Tranche 1 tracking layer. Initial Tranche 1 satellites are being built by L3Harris and Northrop Grumman. The SDA wants to procure at least 54 satellites as part of the Tranche 2 tracking layer, according to a solicitation posted in September.

Outside of the multi-layer constellation, the CR is also blocking new start programs, including work on a new space-based ground moving target indicator (GMTI) effort referred to as Long Range Kill Chains in the budget. This new-start program is seeking $243.7 million in the FY24 request, with a total of $1.2 billion programmed over the next five years. The program will integrate into the Air Force’s broader Advanced Battle Management System, which is replacing the capability previously provided by the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft. The Pentagon would like Congress to provide more flexibility on initiating new start programs under CRs, but for now the military can’t act on those programs until a final budget is passed.

The FY24 budget process was in limbo recently due to chaotic several weeks on the Hill following the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). A new speaker, Mike Johnson (R-LA), has since been elected, but the path forward for the budget remains murky. The current CR expires later this month, and Johnson has suggested extending stopgap spending into January, or even April. The latter would trigger a one percent funding cut below FY23 levels for all federal programs, including defense. Extending the CR into April also exacerbates the challenges for new starts and underfunded programs. Lawmakers are also debating a $106 billion supplemental spending package proposed by the Biden administration for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and domestic needs. Johnson wants to split the supplemental funding into separate bills, and prolonged negotiations could delay action on a final FY24 defense appropriations bill.

Additional data insights from the ongoing budget process can be gathered using Forecast International ‘s FY24 Budget Spotlight, which displays the impact of Congressional spending proposals and stopgap spending bills. Use the registration link to access the free dashboard.

About Shaun McDougall

As editor of International Military Markets, North America, Shaun has cultivated a deep understanding of the vast defense markets in the United States and Canada. Shaun's perspective on defense procurement and budget issues has been cited in a variety of defense periodicals, including Defense News and National Defense Magazine. Further, Shaun played an integral role in the development of Forecast International's U.S. Defense Budget Forecast product, which offers an unprecedented level of insight into the Pentagon's acquisition budget. In addition to providing original analytical content for the U.S. Defense Budget Forecast, Shaun oversees an internal defense budget forecasting process involving Forecast International's team of skilled systems analysts following release of the DoD's annual budget request. Shaun is also in charge of managing Forecast International's Weapons Inventory database.

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