The Trump administration is taking immediate steps to raise the profile of the Defense Department’s space operations, and asking Congress to create the Department of the Space Force as a separate military branch by 2020.
“The time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation,” Vice President Mike Pence said today during a speech at the Pentagon. “The time has come to establish the United States Space Force.”
But the plan doesn’t mean new platoons of space troops will be patrolling the heavens anytime soon. Instead, the four-step plan calls for consolidating and beefing up satellite defense operations that are already being done under the aegis of the U.S. Air Force and other government entities.
In the past, Pentagon and Air Force officials have been reluctant to endorse Space Force plans, for fear that they would simply create another level of bureaucracy. But this week, Defense Secretary James Mattis said he “absolutely” endorsed the near-term steps that will be taken.
To start with, space defense activities will be put under a separate combatant command, analogous to special operations forces and the U.S. Cyber Command.
“We need to address space as a developing warfighting domain, and a combatant command is certainly one thing that we can establish,” Mattis said in advance of Pence’s remarks.
Like the U.S. Cyber Command, the U.S. Space Command will oversee a warfighting domain that doesn’t involve a flesh-and-blood battlefield. Rather, the aim is to maximize the expertise of Earth-based personnel to defend America’s space assets — such as spy satellites and military communications networks — from attack.
The Pentagon will also create a Space Development Agency to work on new technologies for space defense, as well as a Space Operations Force that will draw from across the military to provide space expertise in times of crisis and conflict.
Such moves will lay the groundwork for a new Department of the Air Force, headed by an assistant secretary of defense. That will require Congress’ approval.
“Next February, in the president’s budget, we will call on the Congress to marshal the resources we need to stand up the Space Force, and before the end of next year, our administration will work with the Congress to enact the statutory authority for the Space Force in the National Defense Authorization Act,” Pence said.
The vice president acknowledged that “creating a new branch of the military is not a simple process.” The last time it was done was back in 1947 when the Air Force was established. But after delivering the speech, Pence received a big vote of support via Twitter.
“Space Force all the way!” President Donald Trump tweeted.