Trump orders creation of 'space force,' taking Pentagon by surprise

It remained unclear how the presidential pronouncement would affect the Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs

Trump orders creation of 'space force,' taking Pentagon by surprise

(U.S. Air Force Photo/Duncan Wood/Released)

Tom Roeder
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

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 affect the Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, which now controls the military’s constellation of satellites. It also reverses the Pentagon’s opposition to starting a separate branch for space. Those concerns were voiced last fall as House Republicans pushed for a “space corps.”

Monday’s development, announced by Trump to a White House space policy panel, caught military leaders in the Pentagon and Colorado Springs off guard. While Space News reported that some Pentagon leaders had been briefed before the announcement, other Defense Department sources told The Gazette they didn’t know in advance.

Trump got applause, though, from U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, who said the Pikes Peak region could benefit.

“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,” Lamborn said. “For too long, too little emphasis has been placed on space defense. This problem has been studied in depth since the 1980s, yet few reforms have been made and fewer still have taken hold.”

Lamborn said Trump’s spontaneity has value, though it may cause grumbling in some circles.

“Sometimes you have to rock the boat to get things done,” he said.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Anderson, who was a top officer in the now-defunct U.S. Space Command, said thousands of details 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, it could take a long time. And the longer it takes, that’s just not good.”

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 through 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 that budget this year appears unlikely. The National Defense Authorization Act, which would be the congressional vehicle to create a new force, has passed the House and passed the Senate on Monday evening. The measure doesn’t include space force provisions, but it still faces a conference committee that can amend it with House and Senate consent.

Lamborn said the bill still could be amended to begin the change Trump posed, but lawmakers would have to move quickly.

“If they are nimble, they have time to make some changes,” he said. “I’m optimistic that we can go a considerable way down this road in this year’s deliberations.”

The newest service branch is the Air Force, created in 1947. That move split bombers and fighters from the Army, bringing 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,” suggesting all needed support services would be included in its ranks.

Wood said that’s the flaw in Trump’s plan: Building a space force would create 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 U.S. 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 foes, including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, are thought to possess anti-satellite technologies that could erase that advantage.

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

This year, the 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.

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

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 idea’s viability.

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

What Trump’s Space Force would look like in Colorado Springs was a source of speculation.

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 and the 21st and 50th Space Wings.

Anderson said 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 be built 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.”

The military pumps an estimated $7.6 billion annually into the El Paso County economy, with a significant chunk related to the space industry.

Lamborn said he’s working to make sure the space structure already in Colorado stays here.

“The Pentagon already recognizes Colorado Springs as a center for military space,” he said.

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©2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

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