The "how" is coming together even as the "why" remains a bit vague. Today, Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech at the Pentagon in which he filled in some details on the administration's plans to add a distinct space force to the Department of Defense. The speech coincided with the completion of a Pentagon report that provides a greater sense of how the space force would be structured and fit in with the existing Defense bureaucracy. But there's still a lot unspecified regarding whether non-defense space activities, such as those pursued by the NSA, will be affected by the changes. A significant portion of Pence's speech was devoted to arguing that this is the right time for a space force. Some of the arguments date back to the Cold War, like the development of anti-satellite weaponry, a concern enhanced by China's testing of such a weapon about a decade ago. Others are more recent, like the development of things such as GPS-jamming hardware. One of the arguments stretched logic a little, as Pence cited the threat of hypersonic missiles, which pose a risk because they don't enter space and therefore can't be targeted for antimissile interception there. While these events may not represent a coherent plan by an adversary to militarize space, Pence argued that they represent a situation where US adversaries like China and Russia have already made space what he termed a warfighting domain. "What was once peaceful and uncontested is now crowded and adversarial," Pence said, referring to space. " Today, other nations are seeking to disrupt our space-based systems and challenge our supremacy as never before." He quoted Trump in saying that this was unacceptable and that "We must have American dominance in space." Pence has argued that this change meant that the appropriate response is a new branch of the military, but his view of history here was a bit odd. The two examples he cited to argue for the benefits of a space force were the US Air Force's growth during World War II and the formation of the Special Operations Command in the 1980s. But the Air Force's growth took place while it was still the Army Air Corps; its current status was only granted afterward. The Special Operations Command, by contrast, hasn't achieved the same status as that intended for space force. Be that as it may, the administration is starting to fill out some details about what might go into a space force. These would include a secretary of the Space Force, which will eventually reach the same status as the secretary of the Army or Navy and have a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The secretary will oversee a unified combat command that will coordinate activities and establish combat doctrines for space. That will be joined by a Space Development Agency that, by becoming part of the defense bureaucracy, is intended to be an antidote to bureaucracy and enable new thinking. The first chance to implement any of this will be in the 2020 budget. Starting then, the administration hopes to spend $8 billion over the ensuing five years. In terms of practical considerations, Pence mentioned a couple of activities that will be folded into the space force. These include our current anti-ballistic missile defense systems. Pence also mentioned reconnaissance satellites. While the military operates a number of these, others are handled by civilian agencies like the NSA, as it was found to be advantageous to have multiple sources of intelligence. It's not clear whether that independent operation will continue and, if so, how these activities will be coordinated with those of the space force. While the details are still sparse, all indications are that the majority of the personnel and activities that could end up in the space force will come from the Air Force. Whatever happens with the creation of the space force, US doctrine will remain constrained by the Outer Space Treaty, which outlaws the positioning of weapons of mass destruction in space or any weaponry on the Moon. While this does allow a variety of conventional weapons in space, practical considerations should limit things like anti-satellite weapons, which have the potential to create debris fields that limit access to space by all nations. When the report becomes available, we'll update this article to reflect it.
Vice President Mike Pence today unveiled the Trump administrations plans to form a sixth military branch called Space Force. Its a stupid idea. As a major science nerd, Star Wars fanatic, and lover of the cosmos the thought of Trumps Space Force causes my inner child to leap for joy and make weird laser sounds. But Im not a child. Im a grown up and a military veteran. And the US armed forces shouldnt be anyones fantasy factory. Don't get your hopes up. Before we go any further, Id like to make it perfectly clear that, were this bad idea to become a reality, my criticism of the program is in no way meant to disrespect the brave people whove served or will serve in the military. This isnt about our nations warriors, its about politics. We dont need a Space Force, plain and simple. Heres four reasons why: The United States Air Force Space Command, established over 35 years ago, is headquartered in Colorado. More than 20,000 military personnel perform missions for Space Command, ranging from deploying and monitoring satellites to guarding against ballistic missiles. It seems silly to form an entirely new branch, just to cover the same duties. This isnt the same thing as when the US Army spun out the Air Force. That was to fill a total void in our countrys defense capabilities. In fairness, Pence today said that Space Force wouldnt be built from scratch, but would instead draw upon existing infrastructure. So the question is, will the Air Force just detach Space Command and supplement it with troops and officers from the other branches, or does the Federal government plan to make the existing branches foot the bill by contributing resources from their own budgets? A better idea would be to sharpen the Air Forces focus and put Space Forces budget into Space Command. Especially since, reportedly, that budget isnt going to be very high. Pence also said today that President Trump wanted to budget $8 billion dollars for Space Force over the next five years. Thats $1.6 billion a year. What kind of bargain bin Space Force are we going for here? An aircraft carrier group in the US Navys fleet costs almost a billion dollars a year to operate. And the construction of the Navys newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, cost nearly $13 billion. The Air Force, along with its Space Command, had a budget of nearly $170 billion last year. Im not sure how much of that specifically went to its space endeavors, but Id be willing to make a game show guess it was more than $1.6 billion. By comparison, NASA got almost $20 billion in 2017, and it doesnt have to concern itself with national defense. My point: $8 billion is chump change for a military effort. So what, exactly, is it that Space Force is supposed to do for pennies on the dollar compared to the Navy and Air Force budget, that those branches dont already do? Its mission cant involve a lot of space craft with a budget so small. It doesnt seem like a robust military branch, but a cheap publicity stunt. But people die in the military every single day — even when they arent at war. The military, including any future Space Force, isnt a joke. Unfortunately for my narrative here, Space Force actually began as a joke. Trump was talking to Marines at Miramar (you know, the Marine Corps base where expert pilots from the Navy and Corps train to be Top Guns) about defense spending when he went off script to talk about space, quoting himself somehow: I said, maybe we need a new force, well call it the Space Force, and I was not really serious. Then I said, what a great idea, maybe well have to do that. Im starting to think its not about space or the military, but about invigorating voters. As reported by The Verge, the Trump/Pence PAC just sent emails out asking people to vote on Space Forces logo — ahead of merchandising. And, based on the Twitter reactions Ive seen, the public seems to like the Mars badge the most. It looks like Space Force and Trumps plans to go to Mars are tied together — which only makes sense politically. The Trump/Pence PAC is already trying to monetize the Space Force: "As a way to celebrate President Trumps huge announcement, our campaign will be selling a new line of gear. " Dont get me wrong I believe we need to send a manned mission to Mars. But I cant think of a conceivable reason why the military needs to be worried about going to other planets when were currently fighting the longest war in our nations history right here on Earth. NASA and the private sector seem to have Mars under control. But maybe the Trump administration has top secret information on aliens that makes a Starship Troopers scenario likely. In that case, Im overwhelmingly positive well need to spend far more than $8 billion. Im not the only one who thinks Space Command doesnt need to be its own branch, the brass seems to agree. Former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James recently told listeners at the Brookings Institution she believe Space Force wasnt a good idea because: It is a virtual certainty that it will be a huge undertaking that will consume a lot of time, effort, thinking. I do not believe we should have a separate space force. The myriad of details which people joke about, the academies, the uniforms and what not, those may seem trivial but they are details that need to be worked out. According to a CNBC report, James said shed spoken with members of the Pentagons leadership who told her that they thought it was a bad idea. She said, none of them are in favor of a space force but they are stuck. The president has said it and it will be interesting to see how they now deal with it. Hopefully the adults in the Pentagon, whove yet to commit to creating an entirely new branch, will find a way to stow Trumps outlandishly irresponsible scheme. Itll waste billions of dollars reinventing the wheel — a wheel the US Air Force already has. And, having served in numerous capacities alongside warriors in the US Air Force, Im quite confident in the capabilities of our current fighters to defend us from threats both here on Earth and above the clouds, and their ability to adapt as the mission requires. And they deserve that same confidence from their Commander In Chief.