Over the last two budget cycles, the Department of Defense (DoD) and Congress have played institutional ping pong over which agency should develop the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS). Despite widespread and bipartisan support for fielding a space-based system of missile tracking sensors, this wrangling has created unnecessary uncertainty and difficulty for its development. Given the emergence of hypersonic missiles and the continued proliferation of more complex and maneuvering ballistic missiles, space-based sensors will be critical to evolving missile defense architectures. Perpetuating this institutional uncertainty threatens to seriously impair the prospect of realizing the widely shared vision of fielding space sensors at the speed of relevance.
In its last two budget submissions, the Trump administration has proposed transferring research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funds to develop HBTSS from the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to the new Space Development Agency (SDA). Each time, Congress has voiced its opposition throughout the authorization and appropriations processes, transferring policy authority and funds back to MDA to develop and deploy the HBTSS sensor payload. In their markup of the FY 2021 authorization and appropriations bills, all four major defense committees again provided funding for MDA to pursue HBTSS rather than SDA. The repeated decision to reject congressional oversight on HBTSS development increases institutional uncertainty at a time when stable funding and program management is critical.
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