President Donald Trump wants Congress to allocate $8 billion over the next five years for space security systems as it establishes a U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of the military, Vice President Mike Pence said.
“It’s not enough to have an American presence in space,” Pence said Thursday in a speech at the Pentagon. “We must have American dominance in space. And so we will.”
As Pence spoke, the Defense Department released a report to Congress outlining a plan to build a new force with aggressive offensive capabilities, including systems that could “degrade, deny, disrupt, destroy, and manipulate adversary capabilities.” A four-star general will be in charge of the new command.
“Space Force all the way!” Trump tweeted minutes after Pence spoke.
An administration official said that establishing Space Force would be budget-neutral, though it would likely require additional spending in the future. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Thursday that a cost estimate for the Space Force is being developed for the fiscal year 2020 budget to be submitted next year.
Trump first broached the idea in March, reviving a debate that began almost 20 years ago about whether the Pentagon’s space activities should be moved to a separate command. In June, Trump called for the new branch to be created, despite resistance from the Air Force, which currently oversees military space programs. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the new force would be a component of the Air Force, as the Marine Corps is to the Navy.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis had also disapproved of the idea in the past, saying last year he opposed creating additional bureaucracy at the Pentagon.
On Thursday, Mattis said “space is one of our vital national interests” and is “no longer a new domain.”
Congress would have to approve the new military service, and lawmakers have been divided over the idea. The new branch would need to compete for money with other big, politically protected Defense Department priorities that Congress already funds.
The plan envisions setting up a new Space Development Agency modeled after two organizations that specialize in rapidly developing highly classified systems such as the B-21 bomber, or crafting new uses for existing systems.
The agency is envisioned to take over the management of most unclassified and classified satellite, missile warning, Global Positioning System, sensors and ground station programs that are now under the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center and National Reconnaissance Office.
It’s not clear how those agencies will be affected by today’s announcement and report. The Center now spends 85 percent of the Pentagon’s space system procurement budget.
Shanahan said the Space and Missile Systems Center will not evolve into the new agency. Instead, the new agency is going to be carved out of it. “We are going to take resources that exit in SMC” and “resources from other parts of the department” and “put those together into the separate agency.”
The U.S. already has a space-based military footprint. The sky is teeming with spy satellites and other platforms that support government surveillance, communications, weather forecasting and other activities. The Air Force also has a top-secret aircraft, the X-37B, built by Boeing Co., which orbits the earth for extended periods.
Much of the push to formalize the new branch of the U.S. armed forces is motivated by space investment by Russia and China. In 2007, China fired a missile to destroy an aged weather satellite, demonstrating in a dramatic fashion its ability to deploy anti-satellite weapons.
Even before Trump’s comments, the Defense Department was under orders to formulate a “concept of operations” document for space-war fighting.
Cristina Chaplain, space systems director for the Government Accountability Office, said in an email that creating a new acquisition agency for space provides an opportunity to improve the military’s approach to purchasing equipment.
The current approach “has been focused, if not stuck on, building large monolithic satellites and relying on traditional Defense contractors,” she said. “There has been a reluctance to embrace new concepts and different suppliers.”