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Air Force leaders sidestep question on Trump's 'space force'

Air Force leaders sidestep question on Trump's 'space force'
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

The leaders of the Air Force on Wednesday neither contradicted nor voiced support for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border MORE’s comments the day before calling for a military branch dedicated to space.

Speaking to Marines on Tuesday, Trump proposed creating what he termed a “Space Force” to counter adversaries in space.

“You know, I was saying it the other day — because we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space — I said, 'Maybe we need a new force, we’ll call it the Space Force.' And I was not really serious, and then I said, 'What a great idea, maybe we’ll have to do that. That could happen,'” Trump said.

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Last year, Congress came close to creating what it called “Space Corps,” but backed off amid opposition from the Trump administration, including Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' Trump unsure if Mattis will stay: 'He's sort of a Democrat' Army discharged more than 500 immigrant recruits in one year MORE and the leadership of the Air Force.

At a Wednesday budget hearing, Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerThe stakes are sky-high for the pro-life cause in the upcoming midterms Bipartisanship alive and well, protecting critical infrastructure McCarthy's path to Speaker gets more complicated MORE (R-Texas), chairwoman of the  House Appropriations defense subcommittee, asked Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Air Force chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein how they interpreted Trump’s remarks and to restate their opposition to a separate military branch for space.

Wilson responded by talking about the importance of space to national security and what the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal does to bolster space efforts — but did not directly address the idea of a new branch of the military dedicated to space.

“As the president said yesterday, the new national defense strategy for space recognizes that space is a war fighting domain,” Wilson told the panel. “We appreciate the president and the vice president’s leadership in space. Nowhere is that leadership more clear than the president’s budget, which the chief and I are here to talk to you about today.”

The budget accelerates military efforts in space by focusing on space situational awareness, command and control, and protecting assets in orbit, she continued.

Goldfein, meanwhile, said he is “excited about the dialogue” and recalled his work on space issues when he was the air component commander in Central Command.

“From 2011 to 2013, I was deployed forward with then-Gen. Mattis as his air component commander in Central Command. One of my responsibilities for him was to be his space coordinating authority and to take those capabilities that we bring from space and ensure they were connected to his operational planning,” Goldfein said. “As a joint chief, I see that same responsibility as the lead joint chief for space operations, is making sure that we have those capabilities that the joint team requires.

“And so, as the president stated openly, this is a war-fighting domain. That is where we’ve been focused, and so I’m really looking forward to the conversation.”

Last year, after the House Armed Services Committee unveiled its proposal for a Space Corps, both Wilson and Goldfein came out in strong opposition. Though they acknowledged the need to do better in space, Wilson said a Space Corps would just “add more boxes to the organization chart,” while Goldfein said talk about a separate space force is "moving in the wrong direction."

Because of the administration’s opposition, as well as the Senate’s, the final version of last year’s defense policy bill did not create Space Corps. But it made several smaller changes and required a study on the possibility of creating one, laying the groundwork for it to be created in the future.