WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump announced Monday he is directing the Pentagon to create a new “Space Force” as an independent military service branch aimed at ensuring American supremacy in space — though he may have limited power to develop a new military command.
While Trump has previously talked about his desire for a space unit, he seemed to take those musings one step further, specifically ordering the Pentagon to begin the creation of a sixth branch of the American armed forces.
“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 during remarks at the White House. “We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal.”
Turning to seek out Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Trump said, “General Dunford, if you would carry that assignment out, I would be very greatly honored also …Where’s General Dunford? General? Got it?”
Dunford appeared to acknowledge the order, responding, “we got it.” But the directive seemed to take defense officials by surprise. Creating a new joint military command is largely the purview of Congress, which would have to provide the authority and any funding or shifting of money to a new unit.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said that the department understands the president’s guidance, and is working on the matter while taking into consideration the implications for intelligence operations for the other services. “Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders,” she said.
A senior congressional aide said that Trump’s order is consistent with efforts by members of Congress over the past two years to find a way to dedicate additional resources to the country’s warfighting in space. But the issue has been contested, and even Defense Secretary Jim Mattis expressed some early reluctance to creating a new military service citing the expense and broader effort to integrate warfighting.
The establishment of an independent space force was mentioned by Trump in a March speech to service members in California, but it has faced opposition since it could create an expensive new headquarters bureaucracy and trigger complex and divisive battles between the agencies that currently control part of the space mission. So far, the Pentagon doesn’t have any cost estimates for the development of a new command, or any description of how it would be set up or its impact on other defense and intelligence agencies.
Trump more broadly envisioned a bright future for the U.S. space program, pledging to revive the country’s flagging efforts, return to the moon and eventually send a human mission that would reach Mars. The president framed space as a national security issue, saying he does not want “China and Russia and other countries leading us.” While the U.S. has dominated in space since the 1969 moon landing, China is making strong headway, while Russia is in decline.
“My administration is reclaiming America’s heritage as the world’s greatest spacefaring nation,” Trump said in the East Room, joined by members of his space council. “The essence of the American character is to explore new horizons and to tame new frontiers.”