Trump orders creation of a stand-alone Space Force

 In Politics

President Donald Trump is pictured. | Getty Images

“It is going to be something so important,” President Donald Trump said of the space force. | Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images

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President Donald Trump on Monday ordered the Pentagon to establish a stand-alone Space Force as a new branch of the armed forces.

“We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal,” Trump said at a meeting of the National Space Council at the White House.

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“It is going to be something so important.”

He also asked Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford to carry out the process of standing up the new military service.

“Our destiny beyond the earth is not only a matter of national identity, but a matter of national security, so important for our military and people don’t talk about it,” Trump said. “When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space.”

The move quickly drew some backlash from one key senator, who said the president was overstepping his bounds by unilaterally calling for the creation of a new military service.

“The president told a US general to create a new Space Force as 6th branch of military today, which generals tell me they don’t want,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a former astronaut, wrote on Twitter.

“Thankfully,” he added, “the president can’t do it without Congress because now is NOT the time to rip the Air Force apart. Too many important missions at stake.”

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) also pointed out that establishing a new military branch requires congressional action.

“Congress has asked DoD to study how we handle space. We still don’t know what a Space Force would do, who is going to be in it, or how much is it going to cost,” Turner said. “After we get the report that we required as a legislative body and the president signed off on, then this issue can be appropriately evaluated for what’s best for national security.”

A Senate Armed Services Committee staffer confirmed the committee was not notified in advance that Trump would make his announcement.

Other lawmakers, however, applauded the move, including two members of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee — Reps. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the subcommittee and a long-time champion of breaking space missions out of the Air Force.

“I am thrilled to have President Trump’s continued support for this critical mission to help strengthen our national security,” Rogers said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the president to make this initiative a reality.”

Jerry Hendrix, a vice president at the defense consulting firm Telemus Group, pointed out it took more than 10 years for the Air Force to be separated from the Army in 1947.

So, establishing a Space Force is “a really steep hill to climb,” he said, but predicted the Trump administration could likely move it forward in as little as two years if it really pushed.

Defense officials still have to work out the details, like how the new service will be funded and who will staff it. And Hendrix predicted the money and personnel will largely come from the Air Force, which oversees the majority of Pentagon space missions, but that all services could be called on to contribute.

At the Pentagon, spokeswoman Dana White said the Defense Department will start work on a “deliberate process” to implement the president’s order.

“We understand the president’s guidance. Our Policy Board will begin working on this issue, which has implications for intelligence operations for the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy,” White said in a statement. “Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.”

During debate on the fiscal 2018 defense policy bill H.R. 2810 (115), Congress proposed creating a Space Corps within the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps resides within the Navy. But the measure failed to move forward, with lawmakers instead compromised by ordering the Pentagon to study how space should be organized within the Defense Department. The study is ongoing and a final report is due to Congress by the end of the year.

The House’s version of the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act H.R. 5515 (115) proposes the creation of U.S. Space Command, as a subordinate combatant command under U.S. Strategic Command. It’s unclear if this plan will survive the conference process with the Senate and end up in the final bill.

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