Trump gives jolt to push for military ‘space force’

Trump gives jolt to push for military ‘space force’
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE is giving a boost to the idea of creating a new military force focused on battles in space.

Trump surprised military leaders on Tuesday by announcing the possibility of a “Space Force,” suggesting he’s interested in putting some political capital behind the idea.

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“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,’ ” he said during a speech to military personnel in San Diego.

Supporters of a dedicated military space arm are worried that the United States is lagging behind Russia and China, who have already made moves to spin off their space operations into separate military branches and are developing electronic warfare and anti-satellite weapons.

Lawmakers who like the idea say hearing the president tout the proposal was a shot in the arm.

Rep. Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersHillicon Valley: Trump rails against 'terrible bias' at White House social media summit | Twitter hit by hour-long outage | Google admits workers listen to smart device recordings Trump officials defend use of facial recognition amid backlash Republicans say they're satisfied with 2020 election security after classified briefings MORE (R-Ala.), who last year led a doomed effort with Rep. Jim CooperJames (Jim) Hayes Shofner CooperLive coverage: House Oversight examines Trump family separation policy House panel OKs space military branch Overnight Defense: Officials approved sending Saudis nuclear technology after Khashoggi killing | Space Command pick warns of challenges ahead | Lawmakers clash over bill blocking low-yield nukes MORE (D-Tenn.) to establish a space corps within the Air Force, touted Trump’s comments.

“Looking forward to working with [Trump] on this initiative!” Rogers wrote on Twitter.

But a number of challenges remain before the Space Force becomes a reality.

Air Force leaders are hesitant to put their support behind the idea, warning it would be premature and add burdensome bureaucracy to the service.

Air Force chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein and Secretary Heather Wilson sidestepped a question Wednesday from Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerLobbying world House approves bill increasing federal worker pay House approves 3 billion spending package MORE (R-Texas), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, about how they interpreted Trump’s remarks. Neither of them restated their opposition to a separate military branch for space.

Goldfein said he was “really looking forward to the conversation,” while Wilson said she appreciates “the president’s and the vice president’s leadership on space.”

Last year, Wilson said a space corps would just “add more boxes to the organization chart,” while Goldfein said talk about a separate military branch for space is “moving in the wrong direction.”

The White House last year also opposed the space corps plan and said creating it was “premature at this time.”

What’s more, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Trump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey MORE and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also opposed the plan, with Mattis even sending a letter of opposition to Congress.

“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,” Mattis wrote in a July letter to Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio).

A new Space Force also faces opposition in the Senate, where Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups How Jim Bridenstine recruited an old enemy to advise NASA MORE (D-Fla.), led the charge last year to kill the House’s push.

Nelson told The Hill Wednesday that though Trump expressed enthusiasm for a separate space-focused military branch, “when he talks to the U.S. Air Force, I think he will get a different consideration, that there shouldn’t be, that all of that is being handled by the Air Force now.”

When asked whether he thought the House would be able to convince the Senate of the need for a military space arm by next year, he replied: “I don’t.”

Rogers, however, was unfazed by the roadblocks and said he predicts a new space arm will be set up in three to five years, with dollars for the effort to be inserted in the fiscal 2020 defense budget.

“Our position all along was to spend this year raising awareness of need for this. By raising that awareness the Senate’s going to realize what we realized over the last year and a half, this is a really big problem that can’t be fixed without dramatic changes.”

Rogers said the opposition in the Senate can be overcome.

“This is a big step too fast without them being familiar with why this is necessary … and while I was frustrated by that, I couldn’t be too aggravated because 18 months earlier I was in the same boat. [But] once you become aware of the facts … they’ll be in the same position we are,” he added.

Other supporters of a dedicated military space branch are unsure it will come to fruition anytime soon.

Retired Gen. Robert Kehler, the former head of U.S. Strategic Command, told House lawmakers Wednesday that congressional and military leaders must be cautious in going forward with such a plan, as “my experience with major organizational changes is that they always take longer and cost more than we think.”

House Armed Services Committee ranking Democrat Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Esper officially nominated for Defense secretary | Pentagon silent on Turkey getting Russian missile system | House, Senate headed for clash over defense bill House and Senate head for showdown on must-pass defense bill Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran MORE (Wash.) told The Hill he’s positive Trump’s enthusiasm for a space force is “absolutely going to move the dial in terms of improving our approach to space,” but “whether or not an actual space corps will come out of it, I don’t know. … That’s more of a 50-50 question.”