Vice President Mike Pence urged Congress to establish a sixth branch of the military dedicated to space in a speech that outlined the emerging threat of American adversaries turning space into a warfighting domain.
Pence’s speech at the Pentagon on Aug. 9 coincided with the release of a Department of Defense report to Congress on the steps necessary to create such a force, since the power to create a new branch independent of the five existing forces lies with Congress. The report and Pence’s speech mark a major development in the White House’s effort to convince Congress to create and fund the new military branch.
The vice president said the Trump administration is already working with Congress toward a bill and named two Democrats and two Republicans in the House of Representatives to guide the effort: Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.). The Trump administration will ask Congress for funding for the branch in February.
“The United States will strengthen our security, will ensure our prosperity, and it will also carry American ideals into the boundless expanse of space,” Pence said.
Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea have spent years developing technologies to disrupt, jam, and blind American satellites that serve as the eyes and ears of the U.S. armed forces around the world.
While China launched a missile in 2007 that tracked and destroyed one of its own satellites, Russia claims to have tested aircraft-deployed missiles that can take down satellites. Both nations have conducted sophisticated in-orbit satellite activities that can maneuver their space assets into close proximity to American space systems.
Moscow and Beijing are investing heavily in hypersonic missile technology that can evade existing missile-defense radars, and China claims to have conducted a successful test in early July. Beijing has already created a separate entity dedicated to militarizing space.
“As their actions make clear, our adversaries have transformed space into a warfighting domain already and the United States will not shrink from this challenge,” Pence said.
The president had cast a spotlight on the need to reinvigorate America’s space program since the first day of his presidency. At his inauguration, Trump said that America stands “at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space.”
Trump followed through on that vision by reviving the National Space Council in 2017, an entity that lay dormant for nearly a quarter-century. In the past year, the president issued three space-policy directives to reorient the space program toward human exploration, empower America’s private space enterprises, and safeguard space assets with a new policy for space traffic management.
In March this year, the president outlined his national space strategy, charting a comprehensive governmental approach to maintain U.S. leadership in space.
“As President Trump has said, in his words, ‘It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have an American dominance in space.’ And so we will,” Pence said. “We have got to adapt to that reality.”
The creation of a separate military branch does not mean that the United States is starting in the space domain from scratch. Tens of thousands of military personnel, civilians, and contractors already operate and support U.S. space systems.
Washington is also an undisputed leader in space, having amassed the largest fleet of satellites in the world over the course of six decades. The U.S. military is already developing the next generation of jam-resistant satellites and missile warning satellites that are smaller, tougher, and more maneuverable.
But adversaries are catching up, and these steps are only the beginning of a strategy to address the emerging threat. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has warned that China and Russia are developing anti-satellite technology that could be operational in a matter of years. The Trump administration is seeking $8 billion in funding for space security systems over the next five years.
“We have to be able to compete, to deter, and to win,” said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis while introducing Pence at the Pentagon on Aug. 9.
Space is yet another frontier where the United States will seek peace through strength, Pence told the crowd at the Pentagon.
The Department of Defense report lays out four major steps necessary to create the space force. The report suggests establishing a Space Command, a Space Operations Force, a Space Development Agency, and an executive branch position of assistant secretary of defense for space.
The Space Command would be a unified center for coordinating, evolving, improving, and planning space warfighting. The Space Operations Force would be an organization for space professionals dedicated to advancing America’s space dominance. And the Space Development Agency would be tasked with developing new technologies for space security.
The Air Force is the youngest branch of the U.S. military; it was established in 1947 after World War II.