The Space Force has assumed command of a new unit that will be focused on keeping an eye out for foreign threats in space, but it comes as Congress is warning the small service branch that it has to prepare to slow its growth.
Delta 18 and the brand-new National Space Intelligence Center were officially commissioned late last month at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. It will be staffed by nearly 350 civilian and military personnel. Delta 18’s mission is to “deliver critical intelligence on threat systems, foreign intentions, and activities in the space domain to support national leaders, allies, partners and joint war fighters,” according to a press release.
The creation of the unit equips the Space Force to assist and work alongside America’s intelligence agencies by feeding them information from its growing fleet of satellites and monitoring tools. Avril Haines, President Joe Biden’s director of national intelligence, said being able to leverage new intel in space will be crucial. “In the years ahead, [space] will only become more contested,” Haines said during the ceremony activating the unit on June 24. “And as we move forward, NSIC will be relied upon to produce and analyze scientific and technical intelligence related to space for the entire nation.”
While the funding of the National Space Intelligence Center was included in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, the start of the new unit comes as Congress warns the Space Force about continued expansion.
This spring, the Space Force asked for $24.5 billion in its 2023 budget request – a greater than 40% increase from the previous year – with a majority of the funds projected to go to research and development, as well as establishing more missile warning systems.
Three days prior to the ceremony establishing Delta 18, the House Appropriations Committee filed a report on June 21 warning the newest military branch “against starting more programs than it can afford” and reminded the service that lawmakers expect funding to begin declining in 2027. “The Space Force’s ambitious plans for new architectures, programs and mission areas do not appear to be backed up with credible budget projections in the outyears to actually deliver these capabilities,” the report detailed.
The Space Force, which is nested under the Department of the Air Force, similar to the relationship between the Marine Corps and the Navy, is also getting clear signals counseling moderation from Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall. Kendall said at the Space Symposium in Colorado this past April that the new service shouldn’t focus on space as an “independent war-fighting domain” and should instead view its mission as being a support organization for the other branches. The comments appeared to throw cold water on some of the core efforts by the service to grow and mature as a unique branch.
Comment: The Space Force is still in the early stages of formation. This story illustrates several realities of that formation. Admittedly, the first thought that crossed my mind was whether Space Force Intelligence, as Delta 18, would include involve both intelligence collection as well as analysis. Would it present an opportunity for an aged case officer to spot, assess and recruit sources among the aliens? There may be a book in that concept.
But back to reality. Space Force is still incorporating existing units and missions into its fold. Delta 18 is the military carrying unit for the National Space intelligence Center (NSIC) consisting of previously existing Air Force units. “Space Delta 18 (NSIC) is comprised of two units originally activated 15 April 2008 within the Air Force’s first Space and Missiles Analysis Group. The legacy of the Space Analysis Squadron (SMS) and Counterspace Analysis Squadron (SMD) will be preserved by the re-designation of units as the 1st Space Analysis Squadron and 2nd Space Analysis Squadron respectively.” This is the analytical arm of Space Force. Every service has one.
The operational arm of Space Force Intelligence rests in Space Delta 7, headquartered at Peterson Space Force Base (formerly Peterson Air Force Base). It was activated in 2020 with the redesignation of the Air Force’s 544th ISR Group. It consists of three preexisting ISR squadrons, but will eventually add three more squadrons; a threat analysis squadron; a targeting squadron; and a processing, exploitation, and dissemination squadron.
I believe the addition of these three new squadrons will truly make Space Force Intelligence into something unique. I have no inside knowledge, just a strong intuitive feeling. They may even guide the development of the very soul and character of Space Force. This is something I missed with the initial announcement of the formation of Space Force. Sure most of the units, missions and functions of Space Force were already in existence, but this is more than just getting out of the shadow of the Air Force’s fighter pilot mafia. The men and women of Space Force are intent on developing a unique military culture. That will not only enhance their ability to accomplish their mission, but will enhance our entire military force. This enhancement will first appear when Space Force personnel dominate US Space Command (SPACECOM) rather than Air Force personnel. At some point, I predict that SPACECOM will assume the premiership among the commands that CENTCOM occupied for so long… too long.
It won’t all be smooth sailing as the article points out. Space Force is already getting congressional push back on their budget and plans for future development. The other services are loathe to share the budgetary pie with the young upstart. They are undoubtedly whining to their pet Congressmen and Senators to ensure Space Force doesn’t grow at their expense. Nothing’s changed in that world.