indicated he could support creating a new branch of the military to oversee all space activities, contradicting Pentagon brass and his own Air Force secretary who have opposed the idea.
In remarks at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Tuesday during a visit to Southern California, Mr. Trump stressed the importance of enhancing U.S. efforts in space and said “we may even have a space force” to better manage military activities beyond the atmosphere.
“We are doing a tremendous amount of work in space,” Mr. Trump told the audience, noting he recently said “maybe we need a new force” for that domain.
“I was not really serious,” Mr. Trump said, but “then I said what a great idea; maybe we’ll have to do that, that could happen.”
In his remarks, Mr. Trump appeared to take at least part of the credit for devising a concept the House passed last year as part of its defense authorization bill. That proposal to set up a “space corps” failed to become law when the Senate subsequently stripped it from the legislation.
The idea has been a focus of debate for months among U.S. military leaders and in Capitol Hill hearing rooms, but until now the White House has stopped short of promoting it so directly. Pentagon brass, for their part, have repeatedly argued such a major restructuring of the armed forces would be unnecessary, expensive and end up impeding rather than enhancing the country’s space posture.
That is the position Air Force Chief of Staff
and Air Force Secretary
have taken in congressional testimony, promising instead to revamp the service’s problem-plagued acquisition system and create a new military culture that emphasizes the importance of space.
Mr. Trump’s comments follow a monthslong effort by senior military leaders and intelligence agency officials to publicly highlight Chinese and Russian policies seeking to gain military superiority in space.
Both countries are developing missiles, lasers and other antisatellite weapons that “will probably reach initial operation capability in the next few years,”
principal deputy director of national intelligence, told the White House’s top space policy group last month. In her statement, she also said the Chinese military already has set up operational units dedicated to potentially hostile actions in space.
As part of last year’s authorization bill, the House adopted provisions to create a separate space corps—including a proposed new command structure—reporting to the Air Force’s top civilian official. The language was dropped from the final version of the bill due to stiff Senate opposition. But House proponents including
Rep. Mike Rogers,
the Alabama Republican who is chairman of the House Armed Service subcommittee on strategic forces, have promised to resume fighting for it in future legislation.
Last year’s House bill envisioned a senior uniformed commander heading up an organization dedicated entirely to space activities and reporting to the Air Force secretary, similar to the Marine Corps commandant who reports to the Navy secretary.
In the final version, Congress instructed the Pentagon to produce an independent study about the “long-term prospect of creating a military department to deal with space.”
The U.S. Air Force currently has jurisdiction over satellites, rockets and other military systems that are proposed or already operate outside the atmosphere. Transferring responsibilities to a stand-alone space force would entail the biggest structural shift inside the military since 1947, when the Air Force was created from its predecessor, the Army Air Corps.
Earlier this year, the White House Office of Management and Budget gave lawmakers a report supporting various options to set up a space force or carve out a dedicated space organization from existing commands, without identifying the optimal arrangement.
Mr. Trump’s remarks on Tuesday appeared to go further, saying “we have the Air Force; we’ll have the space force” and adding “we have the Army, the Navy.”
Mr. Trump ended that portion of his comments by saying, “We’re going to lead the way in space.”
Even as they opposed a separate force, Air Force leaders acknowledged longstanding problems stemming from the service’s history of prioritizing aircraft procurement over space programs. Other challenges include the slow pace, high cost and lack of flexibility in acquiring satellites essential for providing everything from communications to battlefield imaging to missile warnings systems.
Responding to heightened concerns over technology development, the Pentagon, White House and lawmakers have shifted some funding and emphasis to developing constellations of smaller, more flexible satellites—with the goal of deploying them much faster. Under Secretary Wilson, the Air Force also has revamped its space leadership structure, stepped up officer training for potential conflicts in space and generally pledged to enhance the stature of space endeavors. But such moves haven’t satisfied the most vocal critics, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers is expected to push for further changes.
Write to Andy Pasztor at firstname.lastname@example.org