President Trump today announced that he is directing the Department of Defense to create a sixth branch of the military: the Space Force.
“I am hereby 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,” Trump said during a meeting of the National Space Council in Washington D.C.
The announcement came during the third public meeting of the National Space Council, where Trump also signed Space Policy Directive 3 after his remarks. The directive deals with space debris and space traffic control, instructing the Department of Defense to modernize its methods of tracking objects in orbit, partially by incorporating commercial tracking services.
Trump first floated the idea of establishing a military branch for space operations in March while speaking to service members at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. It is not exactly clear how the establishment of a sixth military branch would be accomplished, although Trump asked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, to “carry that assignment out” during his remarks today.
The president, however, does not have the authority to create a new military branch without an act of Congress. “Congress alone has the power to establish a new branch of the military and to establish the positions of senior executive officials to lead such a department,” Jonathan Turley, a professor at Georgetown University’s law school, told Defense News. Under the direction of Trump, the Pentagon could establish a framework for a new branch of the armed forces, but it would need to go to Congress for final approval and funding.
Last year, the House Armed Services Committee, led by Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama and Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, introduced legislation to create an independent “Space Corps” that would operate under the Department of the Air Force, similar to the Marine Corps that serves within the Department of the Navy. The Space Corps, however, was removed from the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by congressional leaders reconciling the differences between House and Senate versions of the bill. Instead, the space-related missions of the Air Force were restructured, giving more authority to Air Force Space Command to oversee the defense of assets in orbit.
— Mike Rogers (@RepMikeRogersAL) June 18, 2018
But the Space Force, as proposed by Trump, may operate independently of the Air Force. “We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal,” the president said.
However, a detailed plan to establish a new military branch will take time to flesh out, and exactly how the Space Force would operate alongside the other branches is not yet clear. When the “Space Corps” legislation was struck down last year, Congress instead commissioned a report to develop a “road map to establish a separate military department responsible for national security space.” That report is due to lawmakers before the end of this year.
Military leaders, particularly within the Air Force, have voiced their opposition to creating a new military branch. When the “Space Corps” legislation was being considered, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis all expressed concern that the policy would create increased bureaucracy within the Defense Department and hinder the military’s readiness…