President Donald Trump announced that he is directing the Pentagon to create a new branch of the United States military, which he referred to as the “Space Force” in a press conference with the National Space Council on Monday. The branch will be an independent entity, but organized under the United States Air Force in much the same way that the US Marine Corps is a department of the Navy. The President did not outline exactly what the purpose of the new branch would be, though presumably it would take up most or all military space launch missions, such as the top secret X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle spaceplane currently being flown by the US Air Force. The full press conference, released by the White House, is embedded below:
Although some have raised concerns about the militarization of space, the creation of a US Space Force is not unprecedented. In 1985, the United States Space Command (USSPACECOM) was formed to manage US military operations in space, chiefly the operation of spy and surveillance satellites. USSPACECOM was merged with the US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) in 2002 by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Accordingly, the Russian government has, though several reorganizations, had some kind of institutionalized space force since the early 1980s. The current incarnation is called the Russian Space Forces, and is organized alongside the Russian Air Force under the umbrella of the Russian Aerospace Forces (or VKS, Vozdushno-Kosmicheskiye Sily). Even so, the creation of an independent US Space Force does imply that the Trump Administration is looking to expand the role of the US military in space in one way or another – though exactly what that might mean is yet unclear. However, current international law regarding outer space prohibits the deployment of weapons systems in outer space, suggesting that while the size of US operations may increase, their fundamental nature will not – at least not any time soon.
There is no word yet on whether the Space Force would also take over the Air Force’s secret F-302 and BC-304 fleet of spaceships, nor whether the Marines will be contributing infantry units to the new force.