Trump signs directive that would place Space Force within Air Force
By COREY DICKSTEIN | Stars and Stripes | Published: February 19, 2019
WASHINGTON –- President Donald Trump’s proposed sixth military service, the Space Force, will fall within the Department of the Air Force if approved by Congress, according to a directive he signed Tuesday.
The Pentagon will include funding for the Space Force in its fiscal year 2020 budget proposal, which is expected to be sent to Congress next month, White House officials said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The officials indicated startup costs for Space Force would be about $100 million, far less than the Pentagon’s initial estimate of $13 billion.
For now, the new military branch remains a policy goal of Trump’s administration. Its formation would require legislation, and it is unclear how much support lawmakers have for the proposal that Trump has touted since last summer when he called for a “separate but equal” military branch focused on space.
The arrangement outlined in Trump’s directive would be similar to the Marine Corps’ relationship to the Navy, meaning the service would have its own top general -– the Space Force chief of staff -– who would sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while the service would fall under the portfolio of the Air Force secretary. The long-expected decision by Trump is seen as a win for the Air Force, officials said, especially after Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson initially signaled she opposed a new military service focused on space operations. She later said publicly that she supported the president’s plan.
If approved, Space Force would be the first new U.S. military branch since the Air Force was split from the Army in 1947.
White House officials indicated Tuesday that the Pentagon would prepare plans to build a separate military department with its own Space Force secretary at some point in the future.
Currently, while each of the military services has some servicemembers focused on space capabilities, the Air Force is responsible for 80 to 90 percent of space operations and it runs 77 of the U.S. military’s more than 100 satellites.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week that his panel would hold hearings on the Space Force, but no date had been set.
Inhofe said he was initially opposed to the Space Force, as he had outstanding questions on the cost of the plan and its true motivation. While there has been progress in answering those questions, he said more remains to be done.
“I want to be sure that we are going to be able to do a better job” addressing the costs, he told reporters Tuesday during a breakfast meeting on Capitol Hill. “I was suspicious that the main reason [the Trump administration] wanted to do it was because ... we would have the appearance of being just as dedicated to a Space Force for the future” as China and Russia.
Other prominent lawmakers have signaled they have yet to make up their minds about a Space Force. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told Politico this month that he was not completely opposed to the Trump plan. Smith had long said publicly he was fundamentally opposed to the formation of a new military branch.
Earlier Tuesday, Air Force Gen. David Goldfein, the service’s chief of staff, signaled support for the White House plan, touting the U.S. Space Command as a more important step for the U.S. military’s space programs.
“I think the fact we are having a national debate on space is really healthy,” Goldfein said Tuesday to a crowd at the Brookings Institute in Washington. “We are the best in the world in space. Our adversaries know that, and they’ve been studying us, and they’ve been investing in ways to take away that capability in crisis or conflict. To me, that is the problem statement. We as a nation cannot let that happen ...”
Trump in December ordered the Pentagon to establish Space Command as a four-star combatant command that would operate similarly to U.S. Special Operations Command. Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said last month that the Pentagon had identified a four-star general to head the new organization, but officials have declined to identify that person.
Pentagon officials have not said publicly when the new command would be established, nor have they decided where it will be located. Florida lawmakers, in a letter sent Shanahan on Tuesday, lobbied for Space Command to be housed in their state.
Republican Reps. Michael Waltz and Bill Posey, members of the House Armed Services Committee, and 11 other Florida lawmakers called their state “the epicenter of America’s space program,” in the note to the acting defense secretary. Florida is home to three of the 10 current U.S. combatant commands.
Stars and Stripes reporter Claudia Grisales contributed to this report.