BREAKING NEWS: Trump Signs Directive Fleshing Out Proposed ‘Space Force’

By Jon Harper

Photo: iStock

President Donald Trump signed a new directive Feb. 19 tasking the Defense Department to develop a legislative proposal aimed at creating a sixth branch of the armed forces.

The framework outlined in Space Policy Directive-4, would call on Congress to authorize the establishment of a new military branch known as the “United States Space Force” that would reside within the Department of the Air Force, much like the Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy.

During a signing ceremony at the White House, Trump noted that U.S. adversaries are developing new military space capabilities that could pose a threat to the United States.

“That's why my administration has recognized space as a warfighting domain and made the creation of the Space Force a national security priority,” he said in the Oval Office while flanked by other high-ranking officials including Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.

“We're investing in new space capabilities to project military power and safeguard our nation's interest,” Trump added. “We have a lot of things on the books. We have a lot of new defensive weapons and offensive weapons designed specifically for this” mission.

The legislative proposal, if enacted, would “establish the United States Space Force to organize, train and equip forces to provide for freedom of operation in, from, and to the space domain; to provide independent military options for national leadership; and to enhance the lethality and effectiveness of the Joint Force,” the directive said.

“The United States Space Force should include both combat and combat support functions to enable prompt and sustained offensive and defensive space operations, and joint operations in all domains,” it added.

The top officer of the new space force would be known as the chief of staff of the Space Force and serve as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There would also be a new civilian position — undersecretary of the Air Force for space. That individual would be appointed by the president and with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The legislative proposal should also “consolidate existing forces and authorities for military space activities, as appropriate, in order to minimize duplication of effort and eliminate bureaucratic inefficiencies,” the directive said.

The new force would also: include the uniformed and civilian personnel conducting and directly supporting space operations from all military departments; assume responsibilities for all major military space acquisition programs; and create appropriate career tracks.

Notably, the new Space Force would not include the NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Reconnaissance Office, or other non-military space organizations of the U.S. government.

Trump’s directive orders the secretary of defense to submit a budget proposal for the Space Force to be included in the president's fiscal year 2020 budget request, which is expected to be released in March.

The proposal is not as far reaching as what Trump had proposed last year, which was a space force that would be “separate but equal” to the other services. However, the directive, also known as SPD-4, made clear that the White House has not abandoned hopes of establishing a space force separate from the Air Force.

“This is an important step toward a future military department for space,” the directive said of the initial reorganization that is being proposed.

“As the United States Space Force matures, and as national security requires, it will become necessary to create a separate military department, to be known as the Department of the Space Force,” it said.

The new department, if created, would take over responsibilities from the Department of the Air Force, it noted.

The directive calls on the secretary of defense to conduct periodic reviews to determine when the president should seek legislation to establish a separate space department.

The establishment of a new space force would be a major bureaucratic shakeup at the Pentagon. The last time a new U.S. military branch was stood up was in 1947, when the Air Force was created out of the Army Air Corps.

“This is a historic moment, the dawn of a new service,” Shanahan said during the signing ceremony.

However, Congress would have to sign off on the proposal before a new military branch could be created. Some lawmakers have expressed concern that creating a new space force could lead to unnecessary bureaucracy and costs.

“I think we'll have great support from Congress because they do support” enhancing U.S. military space capabilities, Trump said. “A lot of the generals, a lot of the people involved have been speaking to Congress and we have some very interesting dialogue,” he added.

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, ranking member of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces and a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, released a statement weighing on in the directive.

“Today’s signing of the Space Policy Directive–4 is the first step in a process which may create the capabilities we need to ensure our success in the domain of space,” Turner said in the statement. “I believe it is important that space capabilities remain under the Air Force’s domain. As we look towards Congress’s responsibility in legislating further on this issue, I look forward to working with my counterparts on the strategic forces subcommittee to ensure that the president’s proposal satisfies our space needs, is cost effective and results in increased capabilities,” he added.

Kaitlyn Johnson, associate director of the aerospace security project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it was wise for the Trump administration to propose a new military branch within the Air Force rather try to set up an entirely new department.

“A corps structure will give DoD the time and flexibility to see if they can fully address some of the key concerns of the space community,” she said in an email. “I’m also pleased to see that the administration plans to re-evaluate the idea later on. I think we should start with a smaller construct before growing into a full department. Let’s see what works and doesn’t work first before bringing it to the highest level.”

The new proposal is more politically feasible, she noted.

“I think President Trump understood that he needed to make a compromise somewhere if the proposal had any chance of passing Congress,” she said. “He still gets to call it a Space Force though,” Johnson added.

It’s unclear whether the reorganization would be approved in the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, or if lawmakers would mull it over longer.

“Congress will almost certainly take their time evaluating the proposal, possibly making changes to the legislation before voting on it,” Johnson said. “Members from both sides of the aisle support and oppose the Space Force. It’s definitely an interesting case study on bipartisanship.”

She expects numerous congressional hearings on the topic. “We might be waiting a while before a decision passes through Congress,” she said.

Topics: Space, Space Operations

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