Vice President Pence announced Tuesday that the White House had directed the Pentagon to form a Space Command, a significant step toward the administration’s ultimate goal of establishing a department known as the Space Force that would become the first new branch of the Armed Services since the Air Force was created in 1947.
While the Space Force would need congressional approval, President Trump could establish a command, which Pence said at a speech at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida would be led by a four-star general and consolidate the 18,000 military and civilian personnel who work on national security issues in space.
The announcement follows a speech in August in which Pence had said the White House would push to stand up a command by the end of the year to help it fight war in space the way the Indo-Pacific Command oversees those regions.
For years, lawmakers and Pentagon officials have been increasingly concerned with actions by the Russians and Chinese targeting sensitive United States satellites. The United States military is dependent on a network of orbiting spacecraft that perform all sorts of essential functions, including missile warning, GPS and guiding precision munitions, communication and even spying.
But many of those satellites were put up at a time when space was considered a peaceful domain. In recent years, however, potential adversaries have demonstrated an ability to take them out with missiles or to jam with an array of technologies including lasers.
To combat those advancements, Pence said the United States needs to act quickly to ensure that “American national security is as dominant in space as it is on Earth.”
The new combatant command would be the Pentagon’s 11th, sitting alongside those that oversee geographic regions, such as Europe and operations, such as the Special Forces. Pence said that the White House has been working with Congress on legislation to stand up a full Space Force by the end of 2020. But it unclear whether that proposal has enough support to pass.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has said it would cost as much as $13 billion to establish a new branch of the military. But other estimates, including from Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, have said it would cost far less, even below $5 billion.