Pence announces first steps in establishing 'Space Force'

Pence announces first steps in establishing 'Space Force'

Vice President Pence on Thursday outlined plans to establish President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE's proposed “Space Force,” a new military branch slated to be established by 2020.

“Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces. To prepare for the next battlefield, where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation," Pence told an audience at the Pentagon alongside Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“The time has come to establish the United States Space Force.”

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Trump in June officially directed the Pentagon to “immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.”

Pence’s speech revealed major changes as to how the Pentagon will run its space operations and “the first stages of our administration’s plan to implement the president’s guidance and turn his vision into a reality.”

Congressional action is needed to create an entirely new military branch, but Pence outlined a new Defense Department report that details what the department can do without lawmakers’ approval.

Pence said the new Space Force “will not be built from scratch," but will use the individuals already working on U.S. space programs under the Air Force and other branches.

“Our administration will soon take action to implement these recommendations, with the objective of establishing the United States Department of the Space Force by 2020,” he added. 

The report, released to Congress Thursday, calls for the establishment of a U.S. Space Command. The new combatant command would focus on space as a warfighting domain.

The U.S. military already has a Space Command under the Air Force, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., but the move would unify the activities and 30,000 personnel under it.

In addition, the Pentagon would establish a Space Development Agency — meant to develop and acquire new capabilities — and establish a Space Operations Force to recruit, train and retain personnel such as engineers, scientists and intelligence experts.

The report also recommends the establishment of an operating structure and accountable civilian oversight for Space Force and accelerated space technology and development initiatives.

Pence also laid out the administration’s work with Congress, who “must act to establish this new department,” he said.

“Our administration is already working with leaders in the Congress to do just that. . . . Next February in the president’s budget, we will call on the Congress to marshal the resources we need to stand up a Space Force.”

Lawmakers would also need to amend Title 10 of the United States Code to allow for the creation of a new military service.

Last year, House Armed Service Committee members Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) led a failed effort to establish a space corps within the Air Force, arguing the needed protection of Pentagon satellites and other space assets.

There is agreement among lawmakers and defense officials that space has become a war-fighting domain and U.S. equipment must be protected, but opinions differ on whether that warrants a new military service.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the senior member of the Armed Services panel, said in June that he's hesitant to create an entirely separate Space Force.

“That’s a serious subject. It’s one that I would have a hard time supporting,” Inhofe said. “All of our branches have the space element and it’s working. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

And Senate Armed Services Committee member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) -- who led last year's effort to kill the House’s space corps proposal -- has said the new branch “would cost so much money, it would be so duplicative.”

Air Force leaders, meanwhile, last year warned that it would be premature and create burdensome bureaucracy to separate a space component from the rest of the service.

Mattis himself wasn’t a fan of a new space service last year, and sent 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 2017 letter to Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio).

But on Thursday Mattis said space was “of vital national interests.”

“It is becoming a contested war-fighting domain and we have got to adapt to that reality. It’s on par with the air, land, sea and cyber space domains in terms of it being contested. We’ve got to be able to compete to deter and win.”

Mattis told reporters on Tuesday that supports establishing a new combatant command for space and that the Pentagon is “in complete alignment with the president's concern about protecting our assets in space.”

Pence, meanwhile, argued that “other nations are seeking to disrupt our space-based systems and challenge American supremacy in space as never before,” adding that “the United States will not shrink from this challenge."

Nations including Russia, China, North Korea and Iran for years “have pursued weapons to jam, blind and disable our navigation and communication satellites via electronic attacks from the ground” and recently “have been working to bring new weapons of war into space itself," the vice president said.

Pence said Russia has been developing airborne lasers “to disrupt our space-based systems” and China has demonstrated the ability to track and destroy satellites with missiles.

"Both China and Russia have been conducting highly sophisticated on-orbit activities that could enable them to maneuver their satellites into close proximity of ours, posing unprecedented new dangers to our space systems," Pence said.

"America will always seek peace, in space as on the earth, but history proves that peace only comes through strength. And in the realm of outer space, the United States Space Force will be that strength in the years ahead."

Updated: 1:43 p.m.