Madison Grady is a staff writer for Brief Policy Perspectives and a second-year MPP student.
Last December, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2019. The $717 billion act authorized a 2.6% military pay raise and increased active-duty forces by 15,600 members. More notably the act elevated two military organizations for space, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy (ASD(SP)), creating the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy.
In late August, the Department of Defense (DOD) named former Heritage Foundation defense analyst, Justin Johnson the first acting ASD(SP). Johnson was a part of President Trump’s transition team in 2016. As acting ASD(SP), Johnson is responsible for coordinating all space policy and space policy strategies between agencies and national partners. Johnson will also serve as the senior official in charge of space war-fighting policy for the Pentagon. This is one of the few civilian positions at the Pentagon and will bring “additional civilian oversight to the nation’s military space enterprise,” according to David Norquist.
The president still needs to nominate a permanent secretary. Johnson will continue to serve in the position until an individual is appointed and confirmed by the Senate.
Need for Military Space Policy
Between 2018 and 2019, China conducted their greatest number of space launches, more than any other country. As of August 2020, China has launched 22 space vehicles out of a planned 40. Most notably, on June 23, 2020, China successfully launched its last BeiDou satellite with dual civilian and military use. There are now 30 BeiDou satellites orbiting around Earth, all equipped with five functions: real-time navigation, rapid positioning, precise timing, location reporting, and short message communication.
Russia has also advanced its military foothold in space. On April 15, 2020, Russia conducted a test of its direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile system. The missiles are designed to destroy satellites in low Earth orbit. This test followed the discovery of two Russian satellites that exhibit characteristics of space weapons, the COSMOS 2542 and COSMOS 2543. In February of 2020, these two satellites were seen following a U.S. spy satellite. This was the first time in history that the military publicly announced a direct threat to a U.S. satellite from another country.
Currently, China and Russia pose the biggest threat to the U.S. space program and national security. The creation of the Space Force allows the U.S. to focus its efforts on maintaining its foothold in space, while also protecting U.S. space assets. However, budget cuts from Congress and policy whiplash from a new administration pose the two greatest threats to the agency now.
Future Military Space Policy
The creation of this new civilian position for space policy reflects the fact that the DOD now prioritizes space policy. The creation of a position might not do much to propel space policy forward now, but it may help advance space policy in the long term. The Trump Administration’s primary priority was the creation of the Space Force and returning to the moon by 2024. Experts believe that the Space Force will not see any opposition from the new Biden administration as it continues to establish its place in the Pentagon and its role in National Security.