The head of U.S. Strategic Command on Tuesday told lawmakers that now is not the “right” time to create a separate military space branch.
“I think that someday we'll have a space corps or 'Space Force' in this country. But I don't think the time is right for that right now,” Gen. John Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
President Trump last week surprised military leaders when he announced the possibility of a Space Force.
“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.’” Trump said during a speech to military personnel in San Diego.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) - who last year opposed a House move to establish a space corps within the Air Force – made it clear during the hearing that he was not a fan of the proposal.
“I’m not too keen on ripping space out of the Air Force and creating a space corps,” Nelson said, before asking Hyten about his position on the matter.
“I love the fact that [Trump] embraces the fact that we need to have a future that looks at this warfighting domain,” Hyten replied.
The White House, Air Force leaders, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford all opposed a separate space corps within the Air Force last year, warning it would be premature and add burdensome bureaucracy to the service.
The move for an established space corps failed in the House Armed Services Committee last year, but the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) did include several reforms to the military’s space operations. Among them is a provision that requires the deputy secretary of Defense to study the possibility of creating a space corps in the future.
Hyten said he was a “big supporter” of the provision and praised the proposed budget increases for space in the president’s fiscal 2019 defense funding bill.
“The administration, the Congress, the department understand the need. We've put a budget in place that starts down that path. Now, we have to do it,” Hyten said.
But those pushing for a new branch now warn that Russia and China have already moved to create separate military arms for their respective space operations. In addition, the two countries are developing electronic warfare and anti-satellite weapons.
Hyten declined to answer a question on whether Beijing and Moscow are more aggressive than the United States in the deployment of military weapons or systems in space, saying the information was classified.
“All I can tell you is that they are being very aggressive in establishing what they perceive as norms, that we see — that I can't talk about in here at the current time,” he said.
He added that the two countries do not pose a risk today to U.S. government satellites, but “in the near term, they would be at risk.”
“In the not-too-distant future, [China and Russia] are going to build the capabilities that will allow them to challenge that across the board. And we have to make sure we stay ahead of that threat.”