WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump on Monday told members of the National Space Council he plans on establishing a sixth branch of the U.S. military dubbed the “space force.”
“It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space we must have American dominance in space,” Trump said during a White House meeting of the group. “Very importantly, I’m directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces,” he said during Monday’s meeting with space council members at the White House.
“That is a big statement,” Trump added.
General Joseph Dunford, chairman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be responsible for assembling the force, Trump said.
This isn’t the first time the concept has been floated in Washington; in March, lawmakers proposed the formation of a Space Corps couched inside the U.S. Air Force but the idea fizzled.
The House also pushed for the creation of a U.S. Space Command as a part of its 2019 defense authorization bill.
That legislation is headed to the Senate for debate but in the meantime the Pentagon is studying how new space programs could fit into the Department of Defense. A full report on the matter is expected this December.
But for all this, the proposal to militarize space has been met with skepticism by at least one high-ranking member of the nation’s defense establishment. In a letter to lawmakers last October, Defense Secretary James Mattis said he opposed “the creation of a new military service and additional organization layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting functions.”
On Friday, the Subcommittee on Space – an offshoot of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology – will hear testimony from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and General John Hyten, commander for U.S. Strategic Command.
Should a space force be created, lawmakers have previously suggested it would fall under U.S. Strategic Command’s purview.
The officials are scheduled to speak with legislators about the government’s perspectives on its “roles and responsibilities” in space, according to a committee meeting notice posted Monday.
Bridenstine last appeared before a congressional committee in May to discuss NASA’s budget.
While the administrator shared bipartisan enthusiasm for space exploration and development projects, like the launch of a new Mars lander in 2020, and increasing the commercialization of the low-Earth orbit zone, he stressed a need to overcome NASA’s most immediate hurdle: acquiring necessary funding.
Bridenstine encouraged public-private partnerships as a way to defray costs. One day, he said in May, low-Earth orbit would be “dotted” with commercial satellites.
As for the president’s latest pronouncement, Scott Pace, executive secretary of the National Space Council, said the directive would address the challenges of increased congestion in space.
The directive orders federal agencies like the Defense and Commerce departments to maintain a full record of objects in space.
Ideally, the catalog could be used to help companies avoid collisions in space.
“The volume and location of orbital debris are growing threats to space activities. It is in the interest of all to minimize new debris and mitigate effects of existing debris. This fact, along with increasing numbers of active satellites, highlights the need to update existing orbital debris mitigation guidelines and practices to enable more efficient and effective compliance, and establish standards that can be adopted internationally,” the directive states.