Pentagon Begins Planning for Space Force

Gen. Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks with Patrick Shanahan, deputy secretary of defense, Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force, and members of their respective staffs before the Second National Space Council meeting at the John F. Kennedy Space Center Space Shuttle Processing Facility, Florida, Feb. 21, 2018. The council met to discuss and hear testimony about the importance of the US space enterprise. DOD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann.

The Pentagon will begin the planning process for a Space Force, which President Donald Trump said on Monday would become the sixth US military service. However, leaders also are emphasizing that such a move would require congressional action and would take a minimum of three to five years to implement, even if planning does begin “immediately” as Trump directed.

“We understand the President’s guidance. Our policy board will begin working on this issue, which has implications for intelligence operations for the Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White. “Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.”

US leaders say they are happy to see the focus on space, both from the administration and from Congress, but they emphasize now is not the time to make such a move.

The Fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill, which was approved by the Senate on Monday and passed in the House in late May, does not establish a Space Force. Instead, it looks to streamline and speed up space acquisition and requires the Secretary of Defense to conduct a review of the national security space enterprise, and then submit a report to Congress, along with a new space warfighting policy, no later than March 29, 2019.

The review could help answer some of the key questions regarding the creation of a Space Force, such as what would its mission be, what role would it play within the Defense Department, how much will it cost, and what will its structure look like.

Sequestration poses another challenge. The spending caps go back into effect in Fiscal 2020, meaning budgets are likely to tighten once again, officials say.

“When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space,” said Trump on Monday during a meeting of the National Space Council when announcing his plans for a Space Force. He added, “We don’t want China and Russia and other countries leading us. We’ve always led—we’ve gone way far afield for decades now, having to do with our subject today. We’re going to be the leader by far.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Tuesday warned that the creation of a US Space Force could increase competition in space. China “oppose[s] turning outer space into a battlefield,” he said, according to the Washington Examiner, and China hopes “all parties could work together to ensure that outer space will forever be peaceful and tranquil.”