Nation
    Next Score View the next score

    Pence outlines US Space Force plan for the ‘next battlefield’

    Vice President Mike Pence speaks during an event on the creation of a United States Space Force, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, at the Pentagon. Pence says the time has come to establish a new United States Space Force to ensure America's dominance in space amid heightened completion and threats from China and Russia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
    Evan Vucci/Associated Press
    Vice President Mike Pence spoke Thursday at the Pentagon.

    WASHINGTON — Pointing to growing threats and competition from Russia and China, the White House on Thursday detailed ambitious plans to create the US Space Force as a sixth, separate military warfighting service by 2020.

    The proposal taps into the American public’s long fascination with space but with a military focus, but it faces daunting hurdles. It requires congressional approval and has been met with skepticism from military leaders and experts who question the wisdom of launching an expensive, bureaucratic new service branch.

    Vice President Mike Pence announced the plan during a Pentagon speech, fleshing out an idea that President Trump has flagged in recent months as he vowed to ensure US dominance in space. Pence described space as a domain that was once peaceful and uncontested but has now become crowded and adversarial.

    Advertisement

    ‘‘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 said.

    Get Ground Game in your inbox:
    Daily updates and analysis on national politics from James Pindell.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    Trump marked Pence’s announcement with a tweet: ‘‘Space Force all the way!’’

    Pence portrayed the change as a response to foes’ potential aggression rather than an offensive US military effort.

    Citing Russia and China, he said that for years adversaries have ‘‘pursued weapons to jam, blind, and disable our navigation and communication satellites via electronic attacks from the ground.’’

    ‘‘As their actions make clear, our adversaries have transformed space into a warfighting domain already, and the United States will not shrink from this challenge,’’ he said.

    Advertisement

    In June, the president directed the Pentagon to create a ‘‘separate but equal’’ space force, a complicated and expensive move that could take years to gain congressional approval and become operational. On Thursday, Pence said the administration will work with Congress on the plan and will outline a budget next year. The last time the United States created a uniformed military service was in 1947, when the Air Force was launched after World War II. It joined the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

    Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has endorsed steps to reorganize the military’s space warfighting forces and create a new command but has previously opposed launching an expensive new service. A new branch of the military would require layers of bureaucracy, military and civilian leaders, uniforms, equipment, and an expansive support structure.

    Asked about the cost, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters the Pentagon doesn’t have a number yet but will when the legislative proposal is finished by year’s end.

    ‘‘I would assume it’s billions,’’ he said.

    Deborah James, who served as Air Force secretary for the final three years of the Obama administration, estimated it would be five to 10 years before a separate service would be fully formed.

    Advertisement

    ‘‘Eventually, it’ll settle out, but you will go through years of thrashing. And is that thrashing going to slow your momentum or is it going to help you achieve your goals and address the real challenges that we have on our plate?’’ she said at Brookings Institution last week. ‘‘I don’t think so. I don’t. I wouldn’t vote in favor of it.’’

    The military’s role in space has been under scrutiny because the United States is increasingly reliant on orbiting satellites that are difficult to protect. Satellites provide communications, navigation, intelligence, and other services vital to the military and the national economy.

    US intelligence agencies reported earlier this year that Russia and China were pursuing ‘‘nondestructive and destructive’’ anti-satellite weapons for use during a future war. And there are growing worries about cyberattacks that could target satellite technology, potentially leaving troops in combat without electronic communications or navigation abilities.

    The Pentagon proposal delivered to Congress Thursday lays out plans to consolidate US warfighting space forces and make organizational changes to boost the acquisition and development of technologies.

    It says the department will establish a Space Command to develop warfighting operations, a Space Development Agency to more quickly identify and develop technologies, a Space Operations Force of leaders and fighters, and a new support structure. In the second phase the Pentagon would combine all the components into the new sixth branch of service.

    In the meantime, the Space Command would be led by a four-star general, and Pence said a new high-level civilian post, assistant defense secretary for space, would also be created.

    ‘‘We are glad that the Pentagon is finally taking these steps in enhancing our space strength,’’ Representatives Mike Rogers, Republican of Alabama, and Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee, leaders of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said in a statement. They said the Pentagon report was the start of a ‘‘multiyear process that we think will result in a safer, stronger America.’’

    Much of the military’s current space power is wielded by the Air Force Space Command, which has its headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. The command has about 38,000 personnel and operates 185 military satellite systems, including the Global Positioning System and communications and weather satellites. It also oversees Air Force cyberwarfare.