WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense is asking Congress for $14.1 billion to invest in space operations, and a key part of that is the first allocation of funding for a Space Force.
Pentagon wants $72.4 million to establish a headquarters for the new, sixth military branch. President Donald Trump signed a directive last month ordering the Pentagon to draft legislation that would create the Space Force, akin to the Air Force as the Marines is to the Navy. A Space Force would establish the first new military branch in 72 years.
Declaring space as the “fourth domain of warfare,” Trump’s budget said the U.S. Space Force “will scale up responsibly and deliberately over the next several years in order to address increasing threats and maintain strategic stability.” While the White House is asking for $8 billion over the next five years to establish the force, departing Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told CNBC last year that the new branch is likely to cost as much as $13 billion.
The White House officially released the broad details of its fiscal 2020 budget on Monday, requesting a colossal $750 billion for national defense. The $718 billion is approximately a 5 percent increase, or about $34 billion, over what Congress approved for fiscal year 2019.
The $14.1 billion would allocate funding to several national security programs, from satellites to missile warning systems. Of the $14.1 billion, about $1.6 billion will fund improvements to space-based missile warning capabilities, a missing link in America’s layered missile defense system.
What’s more, the Pentagon will invest an additional $13.6 billion in missile defense capabilities, of which $174 million will finance missile warning systems to address hypersonic threats.
The funding requests come as Russia and China sprint to develop hypersonic weapons, a new breed of weapons that the U.S. currently cannot defend against.
A hypersonic weapon is a missile that travels at Mach 5 or higher, which is at least five times faster than the speed of sound. That means a hypersonic weapon can travel about 1 mile per second.
During a state of the nation address last March, Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted about an arsenal of hypersonic nuclear weapons that he described as “invincible.”
“I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development: You have failed to contain Russia,” Putin said at the time. He added that the new capabilities were “not a bluff,” and he showed footage of the weapons as well as a simulated strike on the U.S. homeland.
Of the six weapons Putin unveiled last year, CNBC has learned that two will be ready for war by 2020, according to sources with direct knowledge of U.S. intelligence reports. So far, the Pentagon has awarded two multimillion-dollar hypersonic weapons contracts to Lockheed Martin last year.
There is also $1.7 billion set aside to buy four rockets for national security space launches. SpaceX and United Launch Alliance — the joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin — are the two rocket companies likely to bid for the $1.7 billion in contracts. In the past year, SpaceX has won seven national security launch contracts worth $718 million total, while ULA has won five worth $796.8 million.
The Pentagon set aside $1.1 billion to reduce the risk from satellite communications jamming threats, as well as $1.8 billion for the GPS III follow-on satellites, which Lockheed Martin has been building for the Air Force.
— CNBC’s Michael Sheetz reported from Englewood Cliffs, N.J.