Controversy over US Space Development Agency highlights inter-service squabbling

The US Space Development Agency was officially established on March 12, something that has angered U.S. Air Force’s civilian chief, who slammed the Pentagon’s plan for adding bureaucracy, creating risk by removing jobs and starting a new project that has yet to be validated, according to a memo quoted by Defense News.

According to this report, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson’s memo, dated Feb. 28, offers a scathing rebuke of the Space Development Agency, a pet project for both acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin.

The top Air Force official argues that the Office of the Secretary of Defense, or OSD, has not adequately laid out how to transfer the authority of the SDA to the Space Force, which was provisioned in a Jan. 19 memo by the defense secretary titled “Guidance for the Establishment of the Space Development Agency.”

The SDA also “appears to replicate existing ones already ordered by Congress,” she wrote. She points to a memo by the OSD, which states that the SDA would be modeled on organizations like the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, even as the service Air Force has launched a space-focused version of the agency called the Space Rapid Capabilities Office.

“Until the Space Development Agency has a uniquely identifiable mission that cannot be accomplished by current organizations, the plan should not move forward,” she wrote.

This most vocal critic of the new agency will be leaving her post in May, but her words are not going unnoticed.

For all who have studied the Byzantine politics of intra-Pentagon and inter-Service rivalries, this is yet another example of existing structures feeling threatened, budgets being cut, and responsibilities being curtailed.

Such behavior has cost the Pentagon dearly in the past, in money, time, and lost opportunities and will more than likely do so again. The criticism leveled against the program is valid, but throwing a spanner in the works, of a new project, while also moving along a parallel path within the USAF will certainly not boost effectiveness, and will create “bad blood” between services, namely the new SDA, the USAF’s Space Rapid Capabilities Office, and the U.S. Space Force ― if its creation is approved by Congress.