The US President aims to establish a new branch of the military to be known as ‘Space Force’.
“It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space,” Trump told a meeting of the National Space Council on 17 June 2018.
“Very importantly, I’m hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces. That’s a big statement.
“We are going to have the Air Force and we’re going to have the ‘Space Force’. Separate but equal. It is going to be something so important,” he said.
“The essence of the American character is to explore new horizons and to tame new frontiers,” he said.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) June 18, 2018
Turning to General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Trump said: “If you would carry that assignment out, I would be greatly honoured.”
Last year Trump revived the National Space Council, a body which sits within the Executive Office of the President of the United States. It had been established in 1989 but has been dormant since 1993.
Trump was joined at the meeting by Vice President Mike Pence, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Buzz Aldrin, famously the second man to walk on the moon.
Trump pitched Space Force as a crucial component of national security. He added that winning a revived space war against Russia and China would bring financial and military benefits as well as boosting the US “psyche”.
Russia and China both hold ambitions of establishing an off-planet military presence. China is reportedly targeting a permanent outpost on the moon and its own orbiting space station.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 18, 2018
Does Trump have the necessary authority and support to establish Space Force?
It is not immediately clear whether Trump’s ambitious plans will come to fruition. The proposed Space Force would become an arm of the US Defense Force alongside the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
Doug Loverro, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy explained that ultimately only Congress can authorise the establishment of a new branch of the military.
It is unknown whether Congress would support the creation of Space Force. There has also reportedly been resistance from the Air Force to a separate space-based branch of the military being formed.
Similarly, Chief of Staff General David Goldfein has discouraged the formation of a new military branch.
Another possible issue with Space Force is that it would create a potentially unwieldy extra layer of bureaucracy.
International law may also pose both political and legal obstacles to Trump’s plans. The US is a party to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which prohibits the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in space. The treaty sets out legally binding rules which provide the earth’s moon and other celestial bodies may only be used for peaceful purposes.
— CNN (@CNN) June 19, 2018
The very notion of the Space Force has been widely ridiculed. Vox asked whether Trump got the idea “from Star Wars, Star Trek, Spaceship Troopers, or some combination of the three?”. It was also widely lampooned on social media.
After Trump first raised the idea of the Space Force in March there was uncertainty whether he was serious or not. He then returned to the idea in May in an address to the Army Black Knights college football team.
Another moon landing?
Trump also announced new goals for moon exploration and raised the idea of sending robots to the moon as early as 2019.
Another aim is a new moon landing within 10 years. This would mark the first time in 55 years that the US has undertaken a manned moon landing.
Trump also signed a directive calling for greater monitoring of space debris. This is anticipated to become a more urgent issue as recreational space flights become a reality.