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story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House, Friday, June 15, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Monday he is directing the Pentagon to create a new "Space Force" as an independent military service branch aimed at ensuring American supremacy in space.

While Trump has previously talked about his desire for a space unit, he seemed to take those musings one step further, specifically ordering the Pentagon to begin the creation of a sixth branch of the American armed forces.

"When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space," Trump said during remarks at the White House. "We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal."

Turning to seek out Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Trump said, "General Dunford, if you would carry that assignment out, I would be very greatly honored also ... Where's General Dunford? General? Got it?"

Dunford appeared to acknowledge the order, responding, "we got it." But the directive seemed to take defense officials by surprise. Creating a new joint military command is largely the purview of Congress, which would have to provide the authority and any funding or shifting of money to a new unit.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said that the department understands the president's guidance and is working on the matter while taking into consideration the implications for intelligence operations for the other services. "Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders," she said.

A senior congressional aide said that Trump's order is consistent with efforts by members of Congress over the past two years to find a way to dedicate additional resources to the country's warfighting in space. But the issue has been contested, and even Defense Secretary Jim Mattis expressed some early reluctance to creating a new military service citing the expense and broader effort to integrate warfighting.

The Defense Department is already in the middle of a congressionally mandated review of the space force issue. The study began in March, with an interim review due in August and a final report due Dec. 31. It's not clear if the president's comments Monday were meant to override or influence that study.

Decades ago, the military deemed space a critical war-fighting domain, creating the Colorado-based Air Force Space Command in 1982. It includes more than 36,000 personnel around the world that provide space and cyber capabilities for the Defense Department. And the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base in California, designs and buys most of the Pentagon's space systems, while also overseeing satellite and other aircraft launches.

In addition, a number of federal defense agencies control portions of the space program, including NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office, which develops and operates surveillance spacecraft and satellites for intelligence gathering.

In a March document outlining the review, the Pentagon said it has already made organizational changes to beef up the stature of the space force but is reviewing others. The document sent to Congress said the review will look at research, capabilities, acquisition and joint war-fighting needs, and will assess "whether the Space Corps concept should be implemented."

The establishment of an independent space force was mentioned by Trump in a March speech to service members in California, but it has faced opposition since it could create an expensive new headquarters bureaucracy and trigger complex and divisive battles between the agencies that currently control part of the space mission. So far, the Pentagon doesn't have any cost estimates for the development of a new command or any description of how it would be set up or its impact on other defense and intelligence agencies.

Ever since the Space Age started with the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik, there has been a military and national security aspect to space, even though there are treaties and a United Nations committee that explicitly talk about keeping space a place of peace. In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower established two separate space programs: a civilian one that became NASA and a military one.

Trump more broadly envisioned a bright future for the U.S. space program, pledging to revive the country's flagging efforts, return to the moon and eventually send a human mission that would reach Mars. The president framed space as a national security issue, saying he does not want "China and Russia and other countries leading us." While the U.S. has dominated in space since the 1969 moon landing, China is making strong headway, while Russia is in decline.

"My administration is reclaiming America's heritage as the world's greatest spacefaring nation," Trump said in the East Room, joined by members of his space council. "The essence of the American character is to explore new horizons and to tame new frontiers."

The president also used the White House event to establish a new policy for reducing satellite clutter in space. The policy calls for providing a safe and secure environment up in orbit, as satellite traffic increases. It also sets up new guidelines for satellite design and operation, to avoid collisions and spacecraft breakups.

The council's executive secretary, Scott Pace, told reporters before the meeting that space is becoming increasingly congested and current guidelines are inadequate to address the challenge.

Trump also encouraged SpaceX, Blue Origin and other nontraditional aerospace companies led by wealthy U.S. entrepreneurs to beat NASA to Mars.

"Just go ahead, if you beat us to Mars, we'll be very happy, and you'll be even more famous," he said. "As long as it's an American rich person, that's good, OK? They can beat us. We'll save a little money, and they can beat us, and we're taking full credit for it, don't worry about it."

Read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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Comments

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  • hurricane46
    June 18, 2018 at 12:57 p.m.

    I hear he's going to appoint Darth Vader as the head of the "Space Force" LOL

  • DoubleBlind
    June 18, 2018 at 1 p.m.

    So the only way Trump can be convinced to fund space exploration is to re-name NASA as ‘Space Force.’ Here’s hoping he’s the first one they launch.

  • itryed
    June 18, 2018 at 1:14 p.m.

    God help us. I hope this nation survives this doofus

  • RBBrittain
    June 18, 2018 at 1:34 p.m.

    First, only Congress can create an "independent service branch" -- Army, Navy, Air Force (the obvious model, part of the Army till Congress separated it in 1947), Marines & Coast Guard, plus arguably non-combatant services like the Merchant Marines. Second, the U.S. is a party with nearly all other space-faring countries (yes, even Russia) to an international treaty prohibiting the militarization of space. Finally, beyond that a "space force" would only duplicate NASA, and may actually make it harder to draw astronauts from the other services, most commonly Air Force & Marines, from which they most often come. (That's why we have the "Colonel" in Colonel Glenn Road; John Glenn was a Marine colonel.) This executive order ought to be a major exhibit for Trump's impeachment and/or 25th Amendment proceedings.

  • TuckerMax
    June 18, 2018 at 1:46 p.m.

    I remember the way Trump marveled at "space force" the first time he read it on a teleprompter. He didn't even know it was coming, and even he was impressed. Nobody else is because its typical BS. If we pay for that, how we going to pay for the wall?

  • RBBrittain
    June 18, 2018 at 2:02 p.m.

    BTW, the treaty is called the "Outer Space Treaty"; it has been ratified by 107 nations, including the U.S., Russia & China. There is absolutely NO basis for Trump to claim a military "space race" with Russia or China; the situation with non-military space endeavors (ISS with Russia & others vs. China's space stations) hasn't changed to justify a "space force", even with Russia's GLONASS & China's BeiDou challenging our GPS (along with the EU's Galileo).

  • DoubleBlind
    June 18, 2018 at 2:05 p.m.

    TM - No worries. Mexico gonna pay for the wall, no?

  • RichardShollmier
    June 18, 2018 at 3:04 p.m.

    They need to resurrect the X33 VentureStar project now. It will allow for single stage to orbit, and have a much quicker and cheaper turnaround than the Shuttle did. And it used a Linear AeroSpike Engine which, while never having been test flown, was fully developed when they cancelled the program, and is far more efficient and economical than any conventional belled rocket engine. Now is the time!

  • ARMNAR
    June 18, 2018 at 3:33 p.m.

    "Pig...In...SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!"

  • GoBigRed
    June 18, 2018 at 3:58 p.m.

    Bone Spurs won't be an issue in Space..............

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