SN Military Space | What a Democratic Senate could mean for Pentagon budgets • Purdy sworn in as commander of 45th Space Wing
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Tuesday, January 12, 2021


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Today's briefing

  • What a Democratic Senate could mean for Pentagon budgets 
  • Brig. Gen. Purdy sworn in as commander of 45th Space Wing

A Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate is not likely to result in substantial cuts to defense spending, analysts predict. 

Democrats in the 117th Congress will have slim majorities in both the House and Senate. After last week's Democratic wins in Georgia's runoff elections, the Senate will be divided 50-50 with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaker once she's sworn in Jan. 20.

Progressive members of the Democratic caucus want big defense cuts but their power is limited as bipartisan deals will be needed to pass spending bills and it takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, noted Roman Schweizer of the Cowen Washington Research Group. 

"We don't think defense spending will get gored," Schweizer wrote in an email. The Pentagon's budget will be talked about as a potential bill payer for other priorities like COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus. Ultimately, "we don't think the Biden administration or moderate House and Senate Democrats will support slashing defense."

Analysts expect Biden to continue to fund the Pentagon at current levels with maybe modest increases. Congress appropriated $627.3 billion in base defense funding and $68.7 billion for war operations for fiscal year 2021. That's a $2.6 billion increase over what Congress enacted in 2020 but $2.1 billion less than what the Trump administration requested.

Under Biden, "I think we're going to see year-to-year modest growth," said Mike Tierney, of the defense and aerospace consulting firm Velos. Tierney and other analysts believe Biden will continue to support the U.S. Space Force, a new military branch championed by Trump. The Space Force also has broad bipartisan backing in Congress.

Democrats on defense committees generally are pro-military and from states that are home to military bases and defense contractors. "Defense provides relatively high paying jobs in a number of battleground states and moderate Democrats are not clamoring for spending cuts," said Byron Callan, industry analyst at Capital Alpha Partners. 

In a 50-50 Senate, each party gets an equal number of committee members and staff.

  • The Senate's key defense oversight committees are the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), which authorizes programs and spending levels, and the Senate Appropriations Committee and its defense subcommittee, which provide the actual funding.
  • Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), SASC's ranking member, will move up to chairman when Democrats take control of the Senate.
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate Appropriations vice chairman, will become chairman. 
  • Sen. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee's ranking member,  is expected to be named chairman

"Reed has been a stable supporter of defense and we expect he will have a solid working relationship with the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA)," Callan said. 

Biden's SecDef up for confirmation 
The SASC has scheduled a confirmation hearing Jan. 19 for Biden's nominee Lloyd Austin to be defense secretary. Lloyd, a retired four-star Army general, left active duty in 2016 and would be the nation's first African American to serve as defense secretary.

To get confirmed, however, Austin will need a special waiver from Congress as the law requires a retired officer to have been out of uniform for seven years before he or she can lead the Pentagon as a civilian. Congress passed such a waiver in 2017 to allow retired general Jim Mattis to serve as Trump's first defense secretary. 

HASC Chairman Smith said he has concerns about the nomination of another recently retired general to lead the Defense Department but he intends to support Austin's waiver. Smith will hold a hearing Jan. 21 so committee members can question Austin directly on his views regarding civilian control of the military. Austin also will face questions about his financial ties to defense contractor Raytheon.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Purdy (right) assumed command of the 45th Space Wing and Eastern Range last week in a ceremony at Patrick Space Force Base, Fla. Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, commander of Space Operations Command (left) president over the ceremony. The wing is responsible for all space launch operations from the East Coast. Credit: U.S. Space Force


China is preparing to launch three missions in the next few months to initiate the construction of the country's space station. These will be the first of 11 planned missions to construct a three-module Chinese space station. A Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket will launch the roughly 22-metric-ton Tianhe space station core module this spring. The launcher is currently undergoing final assembly work in China's northern port city Tianjin.

The U.S. Space Force formally joined the intelligence community on Friday. The new branch of the military is the 18th organization to become a member of the IC. Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond said the service will stand up a separate office — called Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Enterprise — to support intelligence agencies.

Following a series of protests, the Space Development Agency again awarded SpaceX a $149 million contract and L3Harris a $193.5 million contract to each build four satellites to detect and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles. The contracts to both companies were originally awarded Oct. 5 but work had to be stopped after competitors Airbus and Raytheon filed protests with the Government Accountability Office challenging the awards.

United Launch Alliance begins Vulcan tests with pathfinder BE-4 engines. ULA CEO Tory Bruno tweeted this image on Jan. 9 showing a pair of Blue Origin BE-4 engines installed on a Vulcan-Centaur rocket at ULA's factory in Alabama. These are pathfinder engines used for ground tests. ULA expects two flight-qualified BE-4s to arrive this summer as the company prepares for the inaugural launch of its new heavy lift rocket. The BE-4 will be Vulcan's main engine Credit: @torybruno

SN Military.Space is published Tuesdays by SpaceNews Staff Writer Sandra Erwin and Editor-in-Chief Brian Berger.

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