Pointing to what it believes is a growing threat from Russia and China, the White House on Thursday announced ambitious plans to create the US Space Force as a 6th military branch by 2020.
The proposal continues a well-known US fascination with space, this time with an explicit military focus. The initiative, however, faces obstacles. In order to materialize, it needs Congressional approval. The project already faces skepticism from military leaders and experts who question whether it would be wise to launch a new military brand with high investments and bureaucracy entailed.
Vice President Mike Pence announced the new force during a speech at the Pentagon, emphasizing the proposal President Donald Trump has championed in recent months as a way to secure US dominance in space. Pence described space as an area that was once peaceful and powerless, but has now become full and disputed.
“Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation. The time has come to establish the United States Space Force,” Pence said.
Donald Trump commented on Mike Pence’s speech in a tweet extolling the initiative of a space force:
Space Force all the way!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 9, 2018
For the US Vice President, the initiative would be a US response to potential enemy aggression, not a US military offensive.
Citing Russia and China, Pence said that US opponents have been struggling for years to build weapons that could deactivate US communication and navigation mechanisms through electronic attacks from the ground.
“As their actions make clear, our opponents have already turned space into a realm of war, and the United States does not withdraw from this challenge,” Pence said.
In June, President Trump instructed the Pentagon to create a space force, which is considered a complicated and expensive initiative that would take years to get Congressional approval and become operational.
On Thursday, Pence said the current administration will work alongside Congress on this plan, and will formulate a budget next year.
The last time the United States created a new military service area was in 1947, when the Air Force was created after World War II. The other four areas are the Navy, the Army, the Coast Guard and the Marines.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis backed the initiative, but previously criticized the creation of a new military service area because of the high costs of the measure.
There is no budget yet to define how much this initiative would cost. The only statement in that regard is that of Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who told reporters at the Pentagon that the cost is expected to be billions of dollars, and that the number will be known by the end of this year.
According to Deborah James, who served in the US Air Force during the last three years of Barack Obama’s administration, she said the initiative would take between five and 10 years to be created.
The role of the military sector in space is under scrutiny due to US dependence on satellites in orbit that would be difficult to protect. These satellites are of vital importance to navigation, communication and intelligence services in both the military and economic sectors.
US intelligence agencies are concerned about the development of anti-satellite “destructive and non-destructive” weapons that would be under development by countries like Russia and China for use in future conflicts. Agencies are also concerned about cyber attacks that could reach satellites and make it impossible for ground troops to access important information.
Initially, the Pentagon’s proposal includes the creation of a Space Command, a Space Development Agency and a Space Operations Force. In a second phase of the project, these sectors would be united to create the new military service area.
Most of US space power is now under the command of the Air Force, whose headquarters operate at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. The command has about 38,000 people and operates 185 systems of military satellites.
Under the new project, the space force elements, now scattered throughout the department, would be placed under a single command.