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Space Force: 5 things to know about Trump’s controversial plan

Space Force: 5 things to know about Trump’s controversial plan
[Photo: courtesy of NASA]

Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the Pentagon today about the Trump administration’s controversial plan to establish a Space Force as a new branch of the military, on par with the Air Force and the Marine Corps. But support for the plan in Congress and the military establishment has been far from unanimous.

  • The Space Force would be the first new branch since 1947, when the Air Force was established as its own branch. During the 1980s, in the wake of the Iran hostage crisis and with terrorism an issue around the world, there were proposals in Congress to create a sixth branch to handle “special operations,” but the idea was ultimately rejected.
  • Trump can’t create a new branch without Congressional action, but he and the Pentagon can take steps to reorganize how the military handles space. The Defense Department is taking steps to establish a U.S. Space Command, on par with organizational structures like the Pacific Command, and an acquisitions office to streamline purchases of satellites and other space equipment across services, The Washington Post reports.
  • Trump has said the name “Space Force” began as a bit of a joke. But proponents say the proposal is intended to be a serious response to threats from other nations–including Russia and China–to U.S. military and commercial operations in space. Satellites are critical to communication, navigation, and other functions, and they and the systems they talk to on the ground could come under attack in a military conflict.
  • Military support for a Space Force is limited. Current and former top Air Force leaders have said the new branch could create unnecessary organizational headaches and bureaucracy, and even Defense Secretary James Mattis has spoken out against the idea, although Mattis has backed the idea of a space combatant command. He’s more recently said he’s “in complete agreement” with Trump, though it’s unclear if he’s actually come around on the Space Force idea.
  • A Space Force won’t pop up overnight, even if Congress signs off on the idea. Planning and actually creating the new branch could take years, Military.com reports. While the Air Force was created from an already somewhat independent service within the Army, no comparable space-focused entity exists today, meaning the Space Force would have to be created largely from scratch.
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