Trump hosting meeting of National Space Council

Trump orders creation of new US ‘Space Force’ military

Image credit: REUTERS/Leah Millis

US President Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to create a 'Space Force': a new military branch to defend American interests in space.

If the project goes ahead, the Space Force will be the sixth branch of the US Armed Forces. Previously, the Air Force Space Command – a command of the US Air Force – was founded to support military operations using satellite, aircraft launch and cyber-defence capabilities. Until now, it has been acknowledged as the primary US space force.

The proposed Space Force will be independent from existing bodies, Trump said, and he described it as being “separate but equal” to the US Air Force.

“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,” Trump said, speaking at the White House at a meeting of the National Space Council, accompanied by vice-president Mike Pence, Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine, cabinet members and former astronauts. “We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal.”

He added that the White House would be “reclaiming America’s heritage as the world’s greatest spacefaring nation” and that he did not want to see China and Russia overtaking the US.

Trump requested that Marine General Joseph Dunford, former commandant of the marine corps and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, should be the one to “carry that assignment”.

The creation of a new military command is a major project and tends to be the responsibility of Congress. If the Pentagon approves Trump’s plans, they will still require the support of Congress to approve and fund them. Dana White, Pentagon spokesperson, told the Associated Press that the department would be working with Congress on the project: “This will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.”

The Pentagon reportedly began a review of the ambitious project in March, which will look into whether there are practical capabilities – and a requirement – for the implementation of a new Space Force. It is due to announce its interim conclusions in August. The Pentagon has said that it has already made some organisational changes in preparation, although other requirements are under review.

Although few details are known and no budget has been proposed, the creation and maintenance of a new, space-based military branch is certain to be expensive. A Space Force must be restrained in its responsibilities in order to avoid violating the terms of the Outer Space Treaty 1967, which determined that exploration and colonisation of space must be a strictly peaceful endeavour.

Former Nasa astronaut Mark Kelly described the project as a "dumb idea", and argued that the US Air Force already has operations in orbit.

Since entering the White House in January 2017, Trump has been pushing for outward-focused space projects, such as sending astronauts to Mars. While this ambition has been warmly received, the Trump administration has come under criticism for severely cutting funds for – or entirely axing – other Nasa projects, such as those focused on education, basic science or climate monitoring.

At the same White House event, Trump laid out a new policy for reducing space debris, which will include new guidelines on how to design satellites to avoid collision and fragmentation in space. He also called on “American rich [people]” to try to beat Nasa to Mars. Nasa is preparing to put an astronaut on Mars during the 2030s, although Trump has already called on the agency to achieve this feat during his Presidency.

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