As space becomes a bigger priority for the White House, President Donald Trump announced earlier this week the creation of “Space Command,” a unified combatant command that will serve as the first step towards the commander-in-chief’s vision of “Space Force,” a potential sixth branch of the military. The move follows other highly ambitious moves to make spaceflight easier, planning infrastructure for a “Space Gateway,” and an idea for a forward operating base on the Moon.
The announcement delivered by Vice President Mike Pence at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, was planned to coincide with the launch of a Space X Falcon 9 to deliver U.S. military satellites to orbit. The launch, however, was aborted after the Falcon 9’s onboard computer triggered an abort procedure, according to Space.com.
Nevertheless, commenting on Trump’s directive to the Pentagon, Pence said that “space is, in his words, a ‘war-fighting domain.'” While a Space Command currently exists under the Air Force, establishing it as a unified combatant command will provide a home for each military branch’s space elements. As the 11th combatant command, it will exist alongside the likeness of CENTCOM, SOCOM, and eight other regional and functional forces.
Advances in aerospace technology among nations that are aggressors towards the U.S. likely prodded the creation of what some say is “just another bureaucracy.” Though, some countries have even developed anti-satellite measures and laser-based weaponry that could be used against U.S. assets or on the homeland itself.
“Under [President Trump’s] leadership, the United States is taking steps to ensure that American national security is as dominant in space as it is here on Earth,” he added. “To that end, it is my privilege to announce that today, President Trump will direct the Department of Defense to establish a combatant command that will oversee all our military activities in space.”
Although Pence is the chairman of the newly-revived National Space Council, he will not led the new combatant command into battle (or continuing a mission to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no one has gone before).
A general or flag officer from any of the military services will serve as the commander. In a memo from the President to the Pentagon, Defense Secretary James Mattis will recommend officers to be nominated as the commander and deputy commander of Space Command, whom will be subject to Senate confirmation.
The U.S. Air Force initially opposed the idea of Space Command, arguing that there would be two separate military forces in space. Even though the cost has been pegged at $800 million over the next five years, a report from the The Hill reveals that in September, a widely-leaked Air Force memo put the cost at $13 billion, with proponents of Space Command claiming the numbers were inflated to increase animus against the measure.
Regardless, the Trump Administration looks to cement a space-faring sixth branch of the military by the end of his first term in office. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing is already working on an aircraft (spacecraft) with a test flight set for 2021, which has been dubbed the “Phantom Express” – possibly, one could hope, the precursor to something that looks like a T-65 X-wing Starfighter.