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 TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure 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 RogersTrump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact FBI official sees 'tide change' in how platforms handle extremist content America must leap at opportunities to bolster national security in space MORE (R-Ala.), who last year led a doomed effort with Rep. Jim CooperJames (Jim) Hayes Shofner CooperTop Armed Services Republican: 'I don't think anybody is satisfied' with Space Force proposal Bipartisan group asks DHS, ICE to halt deportations of Iraqi nationals Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief under investigation over Boeing ties | Trump uses visual aids to tout progress against ISIS | Pentagon, Amnesty International spar over civilian drone deaths 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 GrangerOvernight Defense: Lawmakers on edge over Iran tensions | Questions rise after State pulls personnel from Iraq | Senators demand briefing | House panel advances 0B Pentagon spending bill | Warren offers plan on climate threats to military Democrats advance spending bills boosting EPA, defying Trump House panel advances 0B Pentagon spending bill that limits border wall efforts 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 MattisPentagon reporters left in dark as Iran tensions escalate Trump officials slow-walk president's order to cut off Central American aid: report Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences 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 NelsonRepublicans amp up attacks on Tlaib's Holocaust comments The muscle for digital payment Rubio says hackers penetrated Florida elections systems 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 SmithLet's talk about education and school choice in 2020 Overnight Defense: Lawmakers on edge over Iran tensions | Questions rise after State pulls personnel from Iraq | Senators demand briefing | House panel advances 0B Pentagon spending bill | Warren offers plan on climate threats to military House Dems unveil bill to limit Pentagon's ability to transfer military construction dollars 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.”