President Donald Trump has issued a policy directive calling for the establishment of an additional branch of the US military, a “Space Force” that will focus on establishing “American dominance in space,” he said in a statement.
“We are going to have the Air Force and we’re going to have the ‘Space Force.’ Separate but equal. It is going to be something,” Trump told the National Space Council, according to a Reuters report.
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, of which the US is a member, prohibits weapons of mass destruction in space, as well as the use of the moon or other planets for anything other than peaceful purposes.
Such an idea has been considered by prior administrations, and Trump has suggested the plan before as well. Yet, critics warn that such a move would weaken the Air Force, which is currently in charge of military operations in space.
In a congressional hearing last year, Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein said that creating a space branch of the military would “move us in the wrong direction.”
For the plan to become a reality, however, Congress would need to approve a budget for the Space Force. So far, reactions among legislators have been mixed.
Democratic Senator Bill Nelson said in a tweet:
“Thankfully, the president can’t do it without Congress because now is NOT the time to rip the Air Force apart. Too many missions at stake.”
Dana White, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, said their policy board would begin preparing to put Trump’s plan into action.
“Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders,” she said.
Trump also said when he announced the plan:
”We don’t want China, and Russia, and other countries leading us. We’ve always led,” adding that it will allow the US to reclaim its “heritage as the world’s greatest space-faring nation”.
Earlier this year, US intelligence agencies warned that Russia and China were both building “destructive counterspace weapons” for use in the event of a conflict. Modern militaries also rely heavily on satellites for intelligence. The agencies expressed concern over weapons that could attack those satellites.
“If you take away that information edge by attacking the satellites … then you in effect pluck out the eyes and cut off the ears of those information-dependent militaries,” according to Malcolm Davis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Davis also notes that the Obama administration relied more heavily on the legal framework that sought to avoid the militarization of space, hesitating to make any moves that would disrupt this balance. He added:
“The US is now realizing that its critical space capabilities, that are an essential component of how it fights wars and its source of military strength, is under ever more threat.”