How Much Will the Space Force Cost?
The proposed creation of a new military service for space, known as the Space Force, is likely to be a hotly debated issue in the FY 2020 legislative cycle. One of the central questions about this proposal is how much it will cost and what the overall size and scope of the Space Force will be. This brief provides rough estimates for the number of military and civilian personnel, the number and locations of bases, the budget lines that would transfer to the new organization, and the additional personnel and headquarters organization that would be needed for the new military service.
The size and budget of a new military service for space depends on how broadly its charter is defined and which existing space-related organizations it would incorporate. The three options evaluated in this analysis are: a Space Corps within the Department of the Air Force; a limited but independent Department of the Space Force (“Space Force-Lite”); and a more expansive Department of the Space Force (“Space Force-Heavy”). The Space Corps option is limited to the space-related organizations, personnel, programs, and bases currently within the Air Force, similar to the legislation that passed the House on July 6, 2017, as part of the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Space Force-Lite option includes everything in the Space Corps plus the space-related organizations, personnel, programs, and bases in the other Services. The Space Force-Heavy option includes everything in the Space Force-Lite option plus some missile defense activities and programs in the Army and Missile Defense Agency that could be considered space-related under a broader definition.
None of the estimates provided include the space capabilities resident in the intelligence agencies, such as the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). This is not intended as a judgment on whether such organizations should or should not be included in a new space service but rather reflects the fact that little data is publicly available on the budgets and numbers of personnel in these organizations. The analysis also does not include the additional personnel and funding that may be needed to stand up a new combatant command for space (U.S. Space Command) or a Space Development Agency because these are separate policy decisions, and both could be created with or without a new military service. Moreover, this analysis does not assume any change in the current activities, acquisition programs, or capabilities of existing space forces as part of the reorganization. A detailed discussion of the assumptions and methodology used for the cost estimate and the specific funding lines that would be transferred to the new service can be found in the Appendix.
This analysis finds that the total annual budget of the new service would range from $11.3 billion to $21.5 billion under the three options considered, more than 96 percent of which would be transferred from existing budget accounts within DoD. Of these totals, only $0.30 billion to $0.55 billion would be new funding (or $1.5 to $2.7 billion over five years).
Option 1: Space Corps
The Space Corps option includes all the components of the 14th Air Force. The main bases and organizations included are: the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base (AFB),1 the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg AFB, the 45th Space Wing at Patrick AFB, 2 the 50th Space Wing at Schriever AFB, and the 460th Space Wing at Buckley AFB,3 as well as the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) at Los Angeles AFB. It does not include 24th Air Force (Cyber), which was reassigned from Air Force Space Command to Air Combat Command in July 2018.4 Smaller units would transition to the Space Corps but remain as tenants on Air Force bases in other locations, such as the 20th Space Control Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base and the Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland AFB. This option would result in the transfer of approximately 12,100 active duty, 1,600 guard and reserve, and 11,900 civilian personnel from the Air Force to the Space Corps. An additional staff of approximately 1,700 personnel would be needed for headquarters and overhead functions, for a total workforce of 27,300.
Table 1: Estimated Annual Budget of the Space Corps Option
Option 2: Space Force-Lite
The Space Force-Lite option includes everything in the Space Corps option above plus the Army 1st Space Brigade as a tenant unit at Fort Carson, the Navy Program Executive Office Space Systems as a tenant unit at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) in San Diego, and the Navy Satellite Operations Center at Naval Air Station Point Mugu. It would also include Army and Navy personnel assigned to liaison or support Air Force Space Command units. This option would transfer approximately 16,700 active duty, 1,900 guard and reserve, and 14,600 civilian personnel from the Air Force, Army, and Navy to the Space Force. An additional 2,600 new personnel would be needed for headquarters and secretariat functions for a total workforce of approximately 35,800.
Table 2: Estimated Annual Budget of the Space Force-Lite Option
Option 3: Space Force-Heavy
The Space Force-Heavy option includes everything in the Space Force-Lite option plus the Army’s 100th Missile Defense Brigade that operates Ground-Based Mid-Course Defense (GMD) systems at Fort Greely and Vandenberg AFB and part of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The MDA activities and programs included in this option are those related to sensors, tracking, and target discrimination capabilities that can be used for space situational awareness and mid-course intercept capabilities that can be used as anti-satellite and defensive counterspace weapons. It also includes a small contingent of personnel from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) that work on satellite communications-related activities. This option would transfer approximately 18,300 active duty, 2,800 guard and reserve, and 24,300 civilian personnel from the other Services and defense agencies to the Space Force. An additional 3,100 new personnel would be needed for headquarters and overhead functions for a total workforce of approximately 48,500.
Table 3: Estimated Annual Budget of the Space Force-Heavy Option
As this analysis shows, the size and budget of a new military service for space can vary considerably depending on the scope of the reorganization. It can range from a total workforce of 27,300 people and an annual budget of $11.3 billion to a workforce of 48,500 and an annual budget of $21.5 billion. As previously noted, these figures do not include the space-related personnel and programs in the intelligence agencies, which could be added in whole or in part to any of these options. While many other hybrid options are also possible, the three options considered here provide a broad range for policymakers to consider. Importantly, in all the options shown here, more than 96 percent of the budget is transferred from other parts of DoD and would not add to the topline defense budget. The new funding required for a Space Corps or Space Force ranges from $0.30 billion to $0.55 billion annually, less than one-tenth of a percent of the total national defense budget.
When compared to the other Services, as shown in Table 4, the Space Force-Heavy option would be similar in size to the Coast Guard in terms of the total workforce, although the funding level would be nearly double that of the Coast Guard. This is mainly due to the expensive technology used in space systems and the large Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) budget a space service would require. The Space Corps option would have roughly half the total workforce of the Coast Guard but would command a similarly sized budget. One notable difference from the other Services is that under all three options considered, more than 50 percent of the full-time workforce for a space service would be civilians, compared to 29 percent for the Army, 36 percent for the Navy, 10 percent for the Marine Corps, 35 percent for the Air Force, and 17 percent for the Coast Guard.
Todd Harrison is the director of Defense Budget Analysis and the director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The author would also like to acknowledge the research support provided by Nigel Mease, a Defense Budget Analysis intern at CSIS.
This brief is made possible by general support to CSIS. No direct sponsorship contributed to this brief.
Table 4: Comparison to the Other Military Services
Many organizational options are available, and each has advantages and disadvantages.7 While the cost of a space service would largely be budget neutral, except for the additional staff needed for headquarters and secretariat functions, this means that the existing military services would stand to lose personnel and budget from such a reorganization. The Air Force would lose the most under all three options, giving up more than $11 billion in annual budget authority. The creation of a new military service for the first time since the Air Force was created in 1947 is a monumental decision, and ultimately, Congress must decide if and when to create a Space Force.
Appendix: Methodology and Cost Assumptions Used
For transparency and completeness, this appendix documents the methodology, data sources, and assumptions used in this paper. While this analysis is based as much as possible on publicly available data sources, it inevitably involves subjective assessments about what organizations, bases, and activities to include or not include and how to estimate quantities that are not publicly known. For example, the Space Corps option includes all the Air Force personnel at Peterson AFB (except the Air National Guard Airlift Wing), but it could also be argued that many of these personnel are not doing space-related jobs and would therefore not need to transfer to the new service.
The numbers of active, guard, reserve, and civilian personnel are estimated using the personnel data contained in the FY 2017 DoD Base Structure Report for the bases and facilities that are most closely associated with space-related activities under each of the options analyzed. 8The total number of personnel at bases are adjusted as needed to remove personnel belonging to units that would not transfer to the new service, such as flying wings co-located at bases that predominantly perform space missions. For predominantly space bases, all of the base support personnel are assumed to transfer to the new service, along with the costs of maintaining the base and associated facilities. However, a detailed assessment of the billets and job functions at each location would be needed to determine precisely how many positions would need to transfer, which is beyond the scope of this assessment. Below are the numbers of personnel assumed for each of the options.
Table 5: Space Corps Personnel Estimates
Table 6: Space Force-Lite Personnel Estimates
Table 7: Space Force-Heavy Personnel Estimates
Figure 1: Locations and Numbers of Personnel in the Space Corps Option
Figure 2: Locations and Numbers of Personnel in the Space Force-Lite Option
Figure 3: Locations and Numbers of Personnel in the Space Force-Heavy Option
Personnel costs are calculated by using an average cost per person in each of the Services and components. The average cost per service member includes all associated military personnel (MILPERS), family housing costs, and Medicare Retiree Health Care Contribution costs for each of the services in the FY 2019 budget request. It does not include the Defense Health Program (DHP) costs since this activity is not paid for by the services and therefore would not transfer to the Space Force.9 The average cost per DoD civilian employee is calculated using the total civilian pay for DoD ($85.0 billion) divided by the number of full-time civilian equivalents (776,000) as contained in the DoD Green Book for FY 2019, which comes to $109,600 per person. The cost of additional headquarters personnel is handled separately since these are new personnel that would not be drawn from the existing force and would likely be higher in rank on average than the overall force. The average cost per headquarters personnel is assumed to be $175,000, consistent with the Air Force’s cost estimate from September 2018.10
Table 8: Personnel-Related Costs in the FY 2019 Budget Request (in thousands of FY 2019 dollars)
Military Construction (MILCON)
The annual cost of MILCON is estimated using the plant replacement value (PRV) from the FY 2017 Base Structure Report for the bases and facilities (and portions of facilities) that would transfer to or be used by the Space Force. 11 The PRVs used for each option are shown in the table below. The annual MILCON funding required is estimated as 1/67th of the total PRV, which corresponds to a composite expected life of 67 years for the various structures and other improvements at each location.
Table 9: Plant Replacement Value of Space Force Bases and Facilities (in millions of FY 2019 dollars)
Research, Development, Test, & Evaluation (RDT&E)
The estimated RDT&E costs are calculated by identifying which existing funding lines within the FY 2019 budget request would transfer to the Space Force under each option. RDT&E funding can vary significantly from year to year as new programs are started or completed, so the annual RDT&E funding of the Space Force would vary accordingly. For example, funding for the development of the Space-Based Infrared System follow-on constellation is projected to grow by nearly $300 million from FY 2019 to FY 2020. The table below lists the space-related RDT&E funding lines and the FY 2019 level of requested funding used in the estimated costs for each option.12
Similar to RDT&E costs, the estimated procurement costs are calculated by identifying which existing funding lines within the FY 2019 budget request would transfer to the Space Force. Procurement funding can also vary significantly from year to year as programs ramp up or down in production, and the annual procurement funding of the Space Force would vary accordingly. For example, funding for the Global Positioning System (GPS) III space segment is projected to increase by more than $700 million from FY 2019 to FY 2020. The table below lists the space-related procurement funding lines and the FY 2019 requested funding used in the estimated costs for each option.13
Recruiting and Training
The costs of recruiting and training personnel are calculated using a weighted average of the existing recruiting and training costs per active duty servicemember in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. This includes basic training, specialized skills training, Professional Military Education (PME), and the costs associated with the military academies and Reserve Officer Training Corps. It is calculated by totaling the training and recruiting operation and management (O&M) budget activity for each of the Services, minus flight training funding, and dividing by the active duty end strength of that Service.14The resulting cost per servicemember is then multiplied by the number of personnel that would transfer to the Space Force to arrive at a total estimated annual cost of recruiting and training under each option. An implicit assumption in this methodology is that retention rates in the new service would be similar to current retention rates in the other Services, and thus a similar proportion of new recruits would be needed each year to replace servicemembers that are separating. Moreover, it assumes that rather than creating a new military academy, war college, and other educational institutions for the Space Force, personnel would instead attend one of the existing schools in the other Services and the Space Force would reimburse the other Services for the fully burdened cost of educating these students.
Table 10: Training and Recruiting Costs (excludes flight training, in thousands of FY 2019 dollars)
The cost of operating forces is estimated from the existing space-related operating forces budget lines in each of the Services.15Where a partial budget line is used, an estimate is made for the proportion of that budget line that is space-related. Where no specific budget line is identified, as in the case of the Army Missile Defense Battalion, an estimate is made using the generalized cost of force structure of similar size.
Table 11: Operating Forces Costs (in thousands of FY 2019 dollars)
Headquarters/Secretariat Staff Size
The primary new cost from the creation of a new military service for space is the additional headquarters and secretariat staff that would be needed. Estimating this overhead burden is difficult because the amount of staff needed is ultimately a policy and management decision. In the past, Congress has set statutory limits on the size of headquarters staffs to limit their growth. The size of a headquarters staff should, in theory, scale with the size of the force it oversees but with a somewhat fixed minimum level of personnel. The Space Force-Lite and Space Force-Heavy options would arguably require a larger minimum headquarters staff level because they would involve the creation of a new Secretary of the Space Force position and associated secretariat staff. This analysis assumes a fixed minimum staff of 500 for the Space Corps option and 1,000 for the Space Force-Lite and Space Force-Heavy options in addition to a variable staff of 5 percent of the non-headquarters full-time staff. To be conservative, it does not assume that any existing Headquarters Air Force Space Command positions would be transferred to the new headquarters staff in the Pentagon, although this would significantly reduce the number of new positions that would be needed. The table below shows the assumed headquarters staff sizes compared to the other Services. The staffing levels for the Army, Navy/Marine Corps, and Air Force shown below are the authorized levels for FY 2013, and for comparison, the workforce for these Services is also for FY 2013.16The staffing and workforce levels for the Coast Guard are for FY 2019.17
Table 12: Comparison of Headquarters/Secretariat Staff Sizes
Todd Harrison is the director of Defense Budget Analysis and the director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
This brief is made possible by general support to CSIS. No direct sponsorship contributed to this brief.
CSIS Briefs are produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2018 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.
1 Does not include the 302nd Airlift Wing located at Peterson AFB.
2 Does not include the 920th Rescue Wing located at Patrick AFB.
3 Does not include the 140th Air National Guard Wing at Buckley AFB.
4 "24th Air Force (Air Forces Cyber)," Air Forces Cyber, February 8, 2017, https://www.afcyber.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/458567/24th-air-force-afcyber/.
5 The budget shown for the Air Force does not include pass-through funding.
6 For simplicity in this table, the additional workforce needed for headquarters and secretariat functions is included in the civilian personnel row for the Space Corps, Space Force-Lite, and Space Force-Heavy options even though some of this additional workforce would be military personnel.
7 For different perspectives on the arguments for and against a Space Force see: Kaitlyn Johnson, “Why a Space Force Can Wait,” CSIS, October 3, 2018, https://aerospace.csis.org/why-a-space-force-can-wait/ and Todd Harrison, “Why We Need a Space Force,” CSIS, October 3, 2018, https://aerospace.csis.org/why-we-need-a-space-force/.
8 U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Defense Base Structure Report - Fiscal Year 2017 Baseline: A Summary of Real Property Inventory, (Washington, DC: DoD, 2016), https://www.acq.osd.mil/eie/Downloads/BSI/Base%20Structure%20Report%20FY17.pdf
9 The Defense Health Program funding line is part of the Defense-Wide Operation and Maintenance account.
10 Marcus Weisgerber, “Air Force Pushes Back on Pentagon’s First Blueprints for Trump’s Space Force,” Defense One, September 17, 2018, https://www.defenseone.com/politics/2018/09/creating-space-force-will-cost-13b-over-5-years-air-force-secretary/151312/.
11 U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Defense Base Structure Report - Fiscal Year 2017 Baseline: A Summary of Real Property Inventory .
12 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller ), Research, Development, Testing, & Evaluation Programs (R-1): Department of Defense Budget Estimates for FY 2019 , (Washington, DC: DoD, February 2018), https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2019/r1.xlsx.
13 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller ), Procurement Programs (P-1): Department of Defense Budget Estimates for FY 2019 , (Washington, DC: DoD, February 2018), https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2019/p1.xlsx.
14 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller ), Operation and Maintenance Programs (O-1): Department of Defense Budget Estimates for FY 2019 , (Washington, DC: DoD, February 2018), https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2019/o1.xlsx.
15 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller ), Operation and Maintenance Programs (O-1): Department of Defense Budget Estimates for FY 2019 , (Washington, DC: DoD, February 2018), https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2019/o1.xlsx.
16 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), DEFENSE HEADQUARTERS: DOD Needs to Reassess Personnel Requirements for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, and Military Service Secretariats , GAO-15-10 (Washington, DC: GAO 2015), 15-17, https://www.gao.gov/assets/670/667997.pdf.
17 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security U.S. Coast Guard Budget Overview Fiscal Year 2019 Congressional Justification (Washington DC: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Coast Guard 2018), USCG-O&S-23, https://www.uscg.mil/Portals/0/documents/budget/FY%202019%20USCG%20Congressional%20Justification.pdf.