Despite consistent bipartisan pushback and international criticism, the US Department of Defense’s newest space agency may see drastic budget increases in the coming years as it looks to deploy some 1,200 satellites.
The Pentagon has requested a total of nearly $11 billion in funding for its controversial US Space Development Agency (SDA) over the next five years, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg earlier this month.
The SDA, which is separate from US President Donald Trump’s proposed Space Force, was established in March and announced by then-acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan as a response to “continuing actions by our near-peer competitors, China and Russia,” that he said may be attempts to “deny, degrade or destroy US space capabilities.”
While the agency recently received a $150 million for its set-up, documents filed last month revealed the Pentagon is now requesting a modest budget bump up to approximately $259 million for fiscal year 2021. In the following years, however, SDA officials wish to see their budget balloon to $1.1 billion in 2022, $1.9 billion in 2023 and $3.67 billion in 2024, reported Bloomberg. The increase does appear to taper off at fiscal year 2025, with the Defense Department requesting $3.68 billion.
According to the agency, it intends to use the funds to build and launch its “notional space architecture,” a six-layer constellation of hundreds of satellites designed to target Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons.
It’s unclear how the Pentagon’s budget request will be received, as the SDA has seen drastic changes in leadership and been the subject of criticism domestically and internationally in the past seven months.
Retired Air Force Colonel Fred Kennedy, who also served as a senior policy adviser within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s National Security and International Affairs division, exited his role as head of the SDA in June. Space expert Derek Tournear has filled the position as acting director since then, but the agency has yet to announce a new head and has drawn bipartisan criticism from Congress.
Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) of the House Armed Services Committee issued a letter to the SDA on July 3 that cited an “apparent change of direction” as their reason behind denying a Pentagon request for $15 million in funding for the space agency.
On an international scale, just days after Shanahan announced the Pentagon’s creation of the SDA, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang slammed Washington’s endeavors and argued the country wanted to turn “space into a new battlefield.”
He went on to say that the US’ increased rhetoric about potential space threats from Russia and China was a further attempt at finding pretext to “establish unilateral military supremacy and to carry out research and develop advanced weapons.”
Despite these various critiques, SDA spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea told Bloomberg for a Friday article that the agency is committed to its goal of “capitalizing on commercial space developments in small satellites and making slight alterations for military systems.”