Amid military fanfare, President Donald Trump signed a defense authorization bill into law to create the U.S. Space Force as a sixth branch of the armed forces.
“This is a very big and important moment,” Trump told hundreds of military personnel and VIPs who gathered at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland for today’s signing ceremony.
The Space Force is intended to bring together military resources focusing on the high frontier, including potential threats from GPS jammers, anti-satellite weapons, space-based weapons and hypersonic attack vehicles.
Trump said the creation of the Space Force recognizes that the final frontier has evolved into a distinct warfighting domain.
“American superiority in space is absolutely vital,” he said. “We’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough. But very shortly, we’ll be leading by a lot.”
It’s not as if there’ll be squads of military “Starship Troopers” rocketing into space anytime soon. Instead, Space Force personnel will be monitoring the skies from existing facilities down on Earth.
Its workforce (roughly 15,000 military and civilian) and its budget ($40 million in operations and maintenance funding for the first year) make it the smallest of America’s six military services.
Although this is the first new military branch to be created since the establishment of the Air Force in 1947, it will operate under the administrative purview of the Department of the Air Force.
The arrangement represents a compromise with congressional leaders who had concerns about the costs and organizational complications that would have come with a new military department. It’s similar to the arrangement the Marine Corps has with the Department of the Navy.
Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett pledged to get the Space Force up and running quickly. “The launch of an independent U.S. Space Force propels us into a new era dedicated to protecting U.S. national interests and security in space,” Barrett said today in a statement.
At today’s ceremony, Trump also signed the paperwork to put Air Force Gen. Jay Raymond, commander of the U.S. Space Command, in charge of the Space Force as Chief of Space Operations. The president noted that Raymond is also now in line to join the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Congressional Democrats cleared the way for the creation of the Space Force – one of Trump’s top national security priorities – in return for a provision that would give federal employees 12 weeks of paid family leave.
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act authorizes $738 billion in funding for all of America’s military branches, including a 3.1% pay raise for service members and the acquisition of billions of dollars’ worth of new equipment.
It’s part of an overall $1.4 trillion spending package that was hammered out by Congress this week to avert a potential government shutdown.