I guess Donald Trump wasn't kidding about the whole "Space Force" idea.
Vowing to reclaim U.S. leadership in space, President Donald Trump announced Monday he is directing the Pentagon to create a new "Space Force" as an independent service branch aimed at ensuring American supremacy in space. [...]Trump had previously suggested the possibility of creating a space unit that would include portions equivalent to parts of the Air Force, Army and Navy. But his directive will task the Defense Department to begin the process of establishing the 'Space Force' as the sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces.
If this is real, and federal policymakers follow through on this -- a president cannot unilaterally declare a sixth military branch -- it will be the first time the U.S. military added a branch since 1947.
In his remarks at a White House event yesterday, the president declared, "That's a big statement. We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force -- separate but equal. It is going to be something. So important."
Trump added, "Remember, economically, militarily, scientifically -- in every way, there is no place like space."
No, seriously, that's what he said.
It's important to emphasize that this idea, by the president's own admission, started as an offhand joke. Trump said in March, describing a conversation with White House staff, "You know, I was saying it the other day, because we are doing a tremendous amount of work in space. I said, 'Maybe we need a new force. We'll call it Space Force." And I was not really serious. Then I said. 'What a great idea. Maybe we'll have to do that.'"
It's hard not to wonder, though, whether there's any kind of serious policymaking purpose to creating a sixth military branch, or whether Trump just thinks "Space Force" sounds cool.
For example, there are treaty obligations to consider. A Washington Post report noted, "The Outer Space Treaty, which the United States signed in 1967 and subsequently ratified, bars states from testing weapons and establishing military bases on the moon and other celestial bodies. It also prohibits the placement of weapons of mass destruction in orbit around Earth. Both China and Russia are signatories to the treaty."
Then again, Trump has never been an "honor international agreements" sort of president, and the Outer Space Treaty lacks enforcement mechanisms.
Complicating matters, it's not altogether clear Trump's own administration and its allies are on board with the president's idea. A New York Times report explained:
The military and Congress have warned that a plan to establish another branch of the armed forces over space protection and space missions would require a long and detailed process, and that the current period of global conflict is not the time to weigh the armed forces down with bureaucratic measures."At a time when we are trying to integrate the department's joint warfighting functions, I do not wish to add a separate service that would likely present a narrower and even parochial approach to space operations," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wrote in a letter last year to Representative Michael R. Turner, Republican of Ohio and the chairman of the House Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee. Mr. Turner has opposed a legislative effort by the House Armed Services Committee to create a space division of the military.
Finally, part of me wonders whether Trump was just winging it, announcing this on the fly, because the White House issued a "space policy directive" yesterday -- and it made literally no reference to the creation of a "Space Force."
We probably haven't heard the last of this one.