On Monday, President Donald Trump ordered the Pentagon to create a sixth division of the Armed Forces: a Space Force. But the process of creating a new military service is more complicated than simply telling the Pentagon to do it.
Trump's announcement came during a meeting with the National Space Council, shortly before he signed the Space Policy Directive-3. The directive aims to prevent satellites, space stations and debris from falling into each other as they orbit the Earth at tens of thousands of miles per hour. It is not something that the United States can do alone. In fact, the directive recognizes that "the safety of space flights is a global challenge" and commits to emphasize "the need for international transparency and [space traffic management] data sharing".
So, the real reason Trump was talking about that space had nothing to do with a Space Force. But, however, he took the opportunity to order the Pentagon to create one, citing national identity and national security. "When it comes to defending the United States, it is not enough to have a US presence in space, we must have US dominance in space," he said. He told the Department of Defense "to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces, that's a great statement," he said.
To effectively coordinate space traffic, international cooperation is required. So bombastic that it states that the United States must dominate the space sent contradictory messages to the international community, according to Brian Weeden, director of program planning for a space policy NGO called Secure World Foundation. "I am concerned that the improvised announcement of the Space Force has overshadowed the launch of space traffic management and hindered the ability of the US to make international reach and cooperation in space traffic management."
Trump was not the pioneer of the idea America must dominate space; that's what the original space race was about. More recently, George W. Bush revived space nationalism in his national space policy of 2006. "It caused a lot of anguish because it took a very unilateral and nationalistic tone about what the United States was trying to do in space," says Theresa Hitchens, associate researcher at the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Maryland.
And the Russian and Chinese evidence of what may have been anti-satellite weapons triggered a shift to the thought of space as a war domain near the end of the Obama administration, says Weeden. "America's top military leaders started talking about space being no longer a sanctuary and conflict on earth spreads to space," says Weeden. "That happened before Trump took office."
Space is integrated into almost everything the army does, says Weeden. Drones are a good example: GPS satellites guide missiles that fire. Surveillance satellites monitor and evaluate the damage. Without satellites, the military could not use drones, "which are a large part of the counter-terrorist operations of the US military," says Weeden.
But a Space Force would not necessarily change the US military presence. UU In the space; it would only change who is in charge and how it is financed. "Many of the people who comment on this assume immediately that a Space Force means they intend to develop a lot of offensive space capabilities," he says. "Creating a Space Force or a Space Corps does not mean that the United States is going to develop more space weapons, it simply changes the structure of the organization."
At this time, the Air Force Space Command is primarily in charge of national security in space. They supervise launches, satellites of the Department of Defense and determine what to buy for the military space. The National Reconnaissance Office also monitors surveillance satellites that are key to attacking weapons and assessing the damage they inflict, according to the NRO website.
Shifting those responsibilities, personnel and budget to a completely new military service would be a massive undertaking that would require Congress to change Title 10, the code that says what services do what. That would mean changing the money according to the general defense budget, or appropriating new funds, what budgetary limits could be complicated, says Hitchens. "So it's not as simple as President Trump seems to think"
At a press conference on Monday, a journalist asked the spokesperson White House Sarah Huckabee Sanders if the president believed that this could be done without the approval of Congress. "We're in the early stages of this and we're going to work with the Department of Defense and other relevant parties to get it going," Sanders responded.
The case is that the Department of Defense has already started looking for a space body, at the request of Congress. Last June, the Armed Services Committee of the House tried to form the Space Corps. But the main defense officials were against, such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and the Chief of Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford, according to The Hill . (Trump addressed Monday's announcement in General Dunford, saying: "General Dunford, if I were to carry out that task, I would be very honored.")
The proposal was finally eliminated, and the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018 ordered a study, instead. The report, due in August, should "provide Congress with a road map to establish an independent military department responsible for the national security space activities of the Department of Defense." Ordering the study may have been a delaying tactic, says Hitchens. "There is such a thing in Washington as death-by-study – where one study engenders another study engenders another study until eventually nothing happens," he says. "My bets are on the death victory in study in this particular situation."
Meanwhile, the Space Force is a distraction, says Kingston Reif, director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, in an email to The Verge . There are the real security challenges when it comes to space, and conflict is possible. What we should be doing instead of wasting energy in the Space Force is talking, both nationally and with other nations, says Reif. "At least we should have a dialogue about what types of behavior we will seek and not pursue in space and what we expect others to do and not do, and we will try to find common ground on these principles"
In fact, although Trump's rhetoric about US dominance in space was not something new, it could still have international repercussions, says Robert Farley, a professor at the School of Diplomacy and International Trade from the University of Kentucky Patterson. "It will justify the fears and warnings that people have in Beijing and Moscow about the US dominance of space," he says. "You will see them continue to work on things like anti-satellite weapons and other kinds of capabilities that can alter the ability of the United States to use space for its armed forces."
That's why developing war rules for space is more important than a Space Force, says Hitchens. At this time, there are too many things that we do not know about how conflicts in space could develop. "There is not much understanding among the countries that are getting into this game about what will make a country go to war, and what will cause it to climb the ladder to nuclear weapons," she says. A Space Force would not necessarily be destabilizing, but "we have an almost more dangerous situation now than in the Cold War," she says. "And this is not going to help."