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Pence, Pentagon promise ‘Space Force’ by 2020

August 9, 2018

The U.S. “Space Force” will become a reality by 2020, Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis promised Thursday, laying out a highly ambitious timeline to set up the first new branch of the armed forces in 75 years and making the case that America must prepare for space threats from Russia, China, North Korea and other hostile actors.

Speaking at the Pentagon Thursday morning, Mr. Pence said the Trump administration sees space as the next frontier in war and is ready to take dramatic action to prepare for future conflicts. The plan includes the creation of a “Space Operations Force” that will become the space equivalent of U.S. Special Forces.

“Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield. The time has come to establish the United States Space Force,” the vice president said. “What was once peaceful and uncontested is now crowded and adversarial. Today, other nations are seeking to disrupt our space-based systems and challenge American supremacy in space as never before the United States will not shrink from this challenge.”

The announcement comes as many retired military officials and some in the Defense Department privately express reservations about the Space Force as a wholly separate branch of the military. Over the past several weeks, there had been widespread speculation the Pentagon would pursue half measures such as establishing a unified space command but avoid creating a new service entirely.

Mr. Pence’s comments Thursday, along with a detailed Pentagon report explaining how the Space Force will be handled, puts an end to that speculation and demonstrates that military leaders at least publicly are now in step with the White House on military space policy.

“Like the other military branches, the Space Force will organize, train, and equip forces to protect national security interests in the physical domain of space. The Space Force will accelerate and unify the Department’s space efforts and enable the delivery of next-generation space capabilities faster than potential adversaries can evolve,” the Pentagon says in its report. “The Space Force will grow the world’s most capable national security space workforce. These efforts set the foundation for growth, mission expansion, and service structure to meet man, train, and equip responsibilities.”

Mr. Trump also weighed in immediately following the vice president’s remarks.

“Space Force all the way!” the president tweeted.

As for adversaries, Mr. Pence specifically cited Russia, China and North Korea as nations that want to disrupt U.S. satellite systems; he also said Moscow and Beijing are working to develop cutting-edge missile technology and other weapons that could be used in space.

To counter those threats, the Defense Department will begin immediately to set up a Space Force as the sixth branch of the military. A formal proposal to establish the Space Force will be included in next year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Mr. Pence said, and the force should become a reality as soon as 2020.

Formally creating the Space Force will require close coordination with Congress a process Mr. Pence said is already underway.

“We’re building bipartisan support for our plan,” he said. “Next February in the president’s budget we will call on the Congress to marshal the resources we need to stand up the Space Force.”

Neither the Pentagon nor Mr. Pence offered any detail whatsoever on how much it will cost to set up or fund the Space Force. The Defense Department said those financial considerations will be addressed in next year’s NDAA. Space Force funding presumably will be partially pulled from existing arms of the military, such as the Air Force Space Command.

Between now and the release of next year’s defense spending bill, the Pentagon will take four specific actions to lay the groundwork for the new branch. Mr. Pence made clear that just as the Air Force was built out of existing air capabilities that had been housed within the Army, the Space Force will bring together resources already at hand.

“The Space Force will not be built from scratch,” he said.

First, the Pentagon said it will stand up a unified “Space Command” that will oversee all space operations in each branch of the military, similar in structure to existing arms such as U.S. Central Command, U.S. Africa Command and other combatant commands responsible for specific areas.

Second, the Defense Department will set up a “Space Operations Force” comprised of “space warfighters.”

“The Space Operations Force will provide the human capital needed to develop, field, and integrate space capabilities into multi-domain warfighting,” the Pentagon says in its report.

The Pentagon also will set up a “Space Development Agency,” which will serve as the central hub for acquisition of materials needed to stand up the force.

The Defense Department also will appoint a new assistant secretary of defense for space who will report directly to Mr. Mattis.

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