President Trump ordered the Defense Department on Monday to take steps toward creating a new branch of the military focused on space. "I am hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces," Trump said during a meeting of the National Space Council.
Lawmakers and the Pentagon have been discussing the creation of a new, space-oriented organization within the military for decades. There was a U.S. Space Command back in 1985, which was folded into U.S. Strategic Command by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2002. In April of 2017, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), chair of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said that the Air Force should create a Space Corps, which could eventually stand on its own, much as the U.S. Army Air Corps was spun off as the U.S. Air Force in 1947.
President Trump mentioned the idea of a space force in March and again in May, saying he first used the name as joke but then realized it was a good idea.
Not everyone agrees on that last point. The proposal has met serious resistance from the Pentagon in the past, largely on the grounds that it would create new, unwanted layers of bureaucracy and expense. The 2018 defense policy bill ordered the Defense Department to study how space should be treated within the military. That study is ongoing, with a final report due at the end of the year.
Trump, who has asked Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford to work on the space force plan, will need help from lawmakers to see it through. Colin Clark of Breaking Defense pointed out that the president cannot unilaterally create a new branch of the military, which requires a law passed by Congress.
A tweet from Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) suggested that the president’s plan may be in for a rough ride on Capitol Hill: “The president told a US general to create a new Space Force as 6th branch of military today, which generals tell me they don’t want. Thankfully the president can’t do it without Congress because now is NOT the time to rip the Air Force apart. Too many important missions at stake.”
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula also criticized the plan, saying Monday that the space force plan was “another example of ready, fire, aim.”