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Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing: “Department of Defense Space Activities in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2025 and the Future Years Defense Program” 

U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee   

Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Hearing   

“Department of Defense Space Activities in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2025 and the Future Years Defense Program”    

Tuesday, May 21, 2024    

Watch the Hearing   

Introduction

The U.S. Senate Armed Services (SASC) Subcommittee on Strategic Forces held a hearing entitled “Department of Defense Space Activities in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2025 and the Future Years Defense Program” on Tuesday, March 21, 2024. The purpose of the hearing was to conduct a comprehensive review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY25, specifically on the Department of Defense’s (DOD) space-related activities and missions. During the hearing, the witnesses discussed various topics, including current budgetary limitations facing the U.S. Space Force (USSF), the potential for space refueling, updates on the DOD’s space classification policy, commercial integration, and international partnerships.  More information.   

 Key Highlights 

  • The witnesses highlighted the challenge posed by constrained or flat budgets in effectively addressing current threats and emphasized the necessity for greater allocation of resources to space activities. This allocation is essential to either sustain or expand the capability gaps between the U.S. and its adversaries.
  • Gen. Guetlein stated that the USSF is exploring the concept of refueling in space to understand its potential benefits for satellite operations, with $20 million requested in the FY25 budget for further study.
  • Mr. Hill affirmed SpaceX’s high level of cooperation with the U.S. government and the government of Ukraine in addressing the illicit use of Starlink terminals by Russian forces. 

Witnesses 

  • Mr. John D. Hill, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space and Missile Defense
  • The Honorable Frank Calvelli, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration
  • General Michael A. Guetlein, USSF, Vice Chief of Space Operations 

Opening Statements 

Chairman Angus King (I-ME)   

In his opening statement, Chairman King requested updates from the witnesses on several items. He asked Mr. Hill about actions taken to lower classification levels of space programs to enhance their usability by warfighters, noting that excessive classification hinders information sharing during conflicts. Additionally, he asked Gen. Guetlein to explain how the essentially flat budget impacts the training and equipping of Guardians to support the combatant commands. 

Ranking Member Deb Fischer (R-NE)  

In her opening statement, Ranking Member Fischer expressed anticipation for updates on progress made with respect to space acquisition and areas for further improvements. She voiced disappointment with the President’s budget request but expressed a desire to collaborate with colleagues on the Subcommittee and the Appropriations Committee to secure funding for additional space systems, including items on General Stephen Whiting’s unfunded priority list. 

Witness Testimony 

Mr. John D. Hill, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space and Missile Defense 

In his testimony, Mr. Hill stated that the DOD has overhauled its space classification policy to eliminate unnecessary barriers to information flow within the joint force, and with partners and industry. He highlighted the release of the DOD’s first-ever commercial space integration strategy, aimed at leveraging the commercial sector to enhance capability, capacity, resilience, and mission assurance. Moving forward, the DOD will continue to focus on four main lines of effort: (1) space control, (2) space cooperation, (3) space classification, and (4) commercial space integration. Mr. Hill believes the progress made in these areas so far will yield long-term benefits. Read the Full Statement. 

The Honorable Frank Calvelli, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition and Integration, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force   

In his testimony, Hon. Calvelli emphasized his focus on driving speed in acquisitions and ensuring programs are delivered on cost and schedule. He highlighted progress in key projects such as the GPS next-gen operational control segment (OCX), set to transition into operations by 2025, and the Atlas program, which is on track to deliver space domain awareness command and control capabilities by 2025. Additionally, he mentioned success in rapidly building small satellites. Hon. Calvelli stressed the importance of program execution, emphasizing the need for realistic and executable RFP documents, effective source selection strategies, and rigorous program management to achieve cost and schedule objectives. He underscored the criticality of delivering programs on time and within budget, particularly in the face of increasing threats and capabilities from competitors. Read the Full Statement.   

General Michael A. Guetlein, USSF, Vice Chief of Space Operations 

In his testimony, Gen. Guetlein emphasized the urgency for action in response to repeated actions by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in space. He emphasized that Russia and the PRC are working to narrow the gap and assert their dominance in space, stating that the U.S. cannot afford to let that happen. Despite comprising only 3% of the DOD budget, the USSF offers significant value to the nation, with every dollar invested yielding substantial returns. Gen. Guetlein highlighted the need to continue investing in the USSF to deter conflict, ensure vital effects, and protect the joint force, underscoring its indispensable role in achieving victory. He thanked the Committee for their support of the USSF Personnel Management Act, which he stated will enhance talent recruitment, development, and retention efforts within the USSF. Read the Full Statement.  

Question & Answer

Budget  

  • In response to a question by Ranking Member Fischer, Gen. Guetlein stated that limitations on USSF’s resources impact its ability to address current threats effectively. He explained that while there is currently a capability gap between the USSF and its near-peer competitors, it is rapidly narrowing. Given the existing resources, tough decisions have been made to balance current readiness with investing in future capabilities. Gen. Guetlein emphasized that to either maintain or widen this capability gap, there is a need for increased resources allocated to the space domain.
  • In response to a question by Ranking Member Fischer, Hon. Calvelli discussed the development of space domain awareness capabilities, including tracing and tracking small objects in Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO). He highlighted upgrades to internal USSF antennas and telescopes for space-based tracking, as well as the procurement of commercial services. Hon. Calvelli expressed optimism that the increasing involvement of commercial companies in space domain awareness services will lead to continued growth in capabilities, and they intend to capitalize on this opportunity. While he acknowledged the potential benefit of additional funding, he stated that they are currently making progress according to their plan but could potentially accelerate efforts with more resources.  

Refueling  

  • In response to a question by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Gen. Guetlein stated that they are currently exploring the concept of refueling in space to understand its potential benefits for satellite operations. They are assessing the balance between incorporating refueling capability into satellites, which can be costly, and purchasing lower-cost constellations. They recognize the need for a combination of both approaches but are still determining the specifics, such as orbits and refueling methods. He noted General Chance Saltzman requested $20 million in the FY25 budget in testimony before the House Appropriations Committee to study this concept further.  

Overclassification 

  • In response to a question by Chairman King, Mr. Hill explained that after a year-long process, the Deputy Secretary approved a new classification policy, which replaces the pervious two-decade-old policy. This updated policy offers a framework for program developers and operators to determine the minimum classification required for specific activities or programs. Hon. Calvelli further elaborated that they are streamlining the process by addressing all programs collectively instead of individually. He noted that by Fall 2024, a strategy will be implemented to reclassify most space programs as top secret or secret, without categorizing them as unclassified. 

Commercialization  

  • In response to a question by Sen. Kevin Kramer (R-ND), Gen. Guetlein expressed overall satisfaction with the integration of Space Development Agency (SDA) into the USSF, highlighting their contribution to the organization. Despite being somewhat disruptive, SDA has “fit into the family” and is setting an example for other parts of the organization by emphasizing speed through building smaller and utilizing fixed-price contracts. Gen. Guetlein commended SDA for collaborating with new space companies and utilizing commercial bus lines, which he views as beneficial for the country. He emphasized the importance of ensuring that operational systems launched by SDA are effectively utilized by the services in the future.
  • In response to a question by Chairman King, Mr. Hill emphasized that the adoption of commercial satellite technologies, such as Starlink, has proven to be crucial for enhancing resiliency and mission assurance strategies. He highlighted Ukraine as evidence that the proliferation of commercial satellite technologies contributes significantly to resilience.  

International Actors  

  • In response to a question by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mr. Hill affirmed that SpaceX has been highly cooperative with the U.S. government and the government of Ukraine in addressing the illicit use of Starlink terminals by Russian forces.
  • In response to a question by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Gen. Guetlein emphasized the importance of partnerships with both industry and allies as a competitive advantage for the USSF. He highlighted the challenges of being “everywhere at all times”, citing the example of threats in the Middle East coming from multiple directions. Gen. Guetlein underscored the benefits of years spent integrating capabilities with allies, enabling seamless sharing of information and threat handoffs between nations. He expressed the expectation of further strengthening partnerships with allies in the future.
  • In response to a question by Chairman King, Mr. Hill acknowledged that International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) is a significant concern for allies when incorporating U.S. technologies into their systems, fearing restrictions from the U.S. licensing system. However, he noted that for general collaboration between the DOD and allies, particularly as they increase defense budgets to meet NATO targets, ITAR is not a significant factor. Hill emphasized that collaborative programs can be developed and executed effectively with allies despite ITAR concerns. 

An archive of previous hearing coverage is available here. 

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