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Trump orders creation of ‘space force’

Author: Tom Roeder, The Gazette - June 18, 2018 - Updated: June 19, 2018

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President Donald Trump shows off a “Space Policy Directive” after signing it during a meeting of the National Space Council in the East Room of the White House June 18, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump on Monday redoubled his efforts to create a separate military force for space, directing the Pentagon to clear the way for the new service branch ahead of a congressional move to create it.

It remained unclear how the presidential pronouncement would impact Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, which now controls the military’s constellation of satellites.

It also reverses the Pentagon’s opposition to creation of a separate branch for space. Those concerns were voiced last fall in the face of a push by House Republicans for a “space corps.”

Monday’s development, announced during Trump’s remarks to a White House space policy panel, caught military leaders in the Pentagon and Colorado off guard. Pentagon sources said they didn’t know in advance of Trump’s decision.

In Colorado Springs, retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Anderson, who served as a top officer in now-defunct U.S. Space Command, said a change as large as the one described by Trump will come with thousands of details that will need to be worked out.

“It allows you to set the rules and get it right,” Anderson said of the new space force. “The downside is, because it is such a complicated process, that it could take a long time. And the longer it takes, that’s just not good.”

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, the Republican congressman who represents Colorado Springs, applauded the move. “A separate service dedicated to space is the type of dramatic initiative that will enhance the U.S.’s ability to enhance our qualitative military edge in that domain,” he said in a statement.

Dakota Wood, an expert on space issues for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy think tank in Washington, said Trump would have a hard time creating a separate service with a presidential edict.

“It would have to have legislative branch approval,” he said.

The military and its branches are creatures of U.S. law that delineates rules and responsibilities along with creating budget accounts that hold each branch’s piece of the $718 billion Pentagon budget.

Getting significant changes to the Pentagon budget this year appears unlikely. The National Defense Authorization Act, which would be the congressional vehicle to create a new force, has already passed the House and is poised for final passage in the Senate. The measure doesn’t include the space force provisions.

The last new service branch was the Air Force, created in 1947. That move split bombers and fighters from the Army. That move came with new leaders at the Pentagon, new uniforms, a new rank structure and a whole system to support the service’s needs – from cooks to chaplains.

While Trump offered few details on the new space force, he did describe it as “separate but equal” – an indication that the space force would include all needed support services within its ranks.

Wood said that’s the flaw in Trump’s plan: Building a space force would build a massive new bureaucracy.

“This is going to generate debate,” Wood said. “Certainly the Heritage Foundation has been on record that this is a bad idea.”

Anderson said the push for a space force recognizes the growing threats to American military satellites. American troops rely on satellites for navigation, communications and intelligence and the use of space assets has revolutionized how wars are fought on the ground.

But America’s rivals, including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, are thought to possess anti-satellite technologies that could erase that advantage.

Leaders at Space Command in Colorado Springs have rushed to counter the threats, including the establishment of the National Space Defense Center at Schriever Air Force Base, which brings together experts from intelligence agencies and airmen to defend American assets in orbit.

This year, Space Command took over as the military’s sole leader in orbit, with Gen. Jay Raymond named commander of a “joint” space contingent that includes all military branches.

It’s unclear how Trump’s directive would change that status.

Space Command on Monday referred questions to the Pentagon, which had no immediate response to questions on the issue.

The idea of a separate space branch has floated around military circles for a generation but gained its first real traction last year when it was included in a House version of a Pentagon policy bill. The House move was shot down in the Senate, but Congress did order a series of studies on the viability of the idea.

Those studies remain in progress. It is unclear whether Trump was given a status report on the studies before he issued Monday’s space force edict.

What Trump’s Space Force would look like in Colorado Springs was a source of speculation Monday, with few facts available.

Congress, in authorizing a new branch, would have vast powers to decide where the force is headquartered. Colorado Springs is the nation’s military space capital, with Space Command, a joint headquarters for Pentagon space missions, the space defense center along with the 21st and 50th Space Wings.

Anderson said that having that much infrastructure in place puts the city in a great position to house the force Trump envisions.

Space Command is the foundation that can build upon, he said.

Bob Lally, who heads the Military Affairs Council of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, said he’s not worried about the rise of a space force.

“Whatever they decide to do, we are the epicenter for space for the United States of America,” he said. “I would suggest we take this announcement for what it’s worth, but in Colorado Springs we are going to get deeper and deeper into space job-wise.”

Gazette Reporter Tony Peck contributed to this story.

Tom Roeder, The Gazette

Tom Roeder, The Gazette