You’ve got the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy, but how about a US Space Force by 2020? Marked with the jarring religious zeal that blankets many of his announcements, VP Mike Pence officially announced the creation and the target date for said astro agency at an address at the Pentagon yesterday.
Suffice it to say, it left many scratching their heads, so here’s a rundown of what it is, what we know, and what the point of it is. The TL;DR version can be summed with a world-weary sigh.
There’s a fair bit to say about the initiative, other than the fact that its name sounds like a rejected ’80s kids show, and the jokes are writing themselves. You can also vote on its terrible logos if you support the idea, which is itself quite likely to be yet another distraction from the ongoing investigation that gives the President a severe case of the Twitter tantrums.
“The Space Force – does that make sense?” the President said from a dais back in March. His words were light on details, but back in June, he ordered the Pentagon to look into it. It’s led to some catchy chanting among Trump’s political base, some of whom think it would be the best way to fend off Space ISIS.
Details remain sparse, but plenty have suggested that Space Force will involve armed starship troopers handling warfare in near-to-zero gravity conditions.
As it happens, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to which the US is party to, prohibits the use of weapons of mass destruction in space, as well as military maneuvers or operations on the Moon. It allows for “military personnel for scientific research… and any other peaceful purposes.”
As noted by ArsTechnia, the Space Force’s function will instead likely be to use military space missions to protect US activities in space. Less Starship Troopers, more high-tech bodyguards: a not-unreasonable notion that seems far more ludicrous when you consider which administration is proposing it.
It has, however, been frequently pointed out that the US Military has been involved in space for over half a century now, particularly when it comes to satellite tech, for terrestrial, warfare-based observations and communications.
Mark Kelly, a former NASA astronaut, called the Space Force idea “dumb” and “wasteful”, while pointing out that the Air Force has already branched out into space. An ex-Air Force Chief called it “a solution in search of a problem.”
Some experts and lawmakers have suggested, quite rightly, that space will eventually be a new territory that will feature offensive military capabilities from several nations.
From hypothetical, satellite-mounted weapons – such as kinetic rods – to very real anti-satellite missiles, there’s certainly enough for officials to be concerned about. Unlike the current Air Force’s activities, however, it’s unclear how a Space Force would do anything to mitigate this.
It’s worth noting that this idea isn’t a Trumpian concoction, with similar ideas cropping up several times since the turn of the new millennium.
Back in 2017, the House Armed Services Committee voted to splinter the Air Force in order to create the “Space Corps”, but the Trump administration’s very own Defense Secretary James Mattis shot the proposal down. “I strongly urge Congress to reconsider the proposal of a separate service Space Corps,” he opined at the time.
The Pentagon is aware they need to step up their game in space. It was suspected that their own research would ultimately lead to a call for a US Space Command, which would agglomerate all military forces involved with space under one umbrella.
It’s not quite the same as setting up an entirely new military branch, something that would take more than two years to prepare and set up in a way that doesn’t resemble a pigeon caught in an extractor fan. No one at the Pentagon has expressed explicit support for the idea either.
In any case, the White House and the Department of Defense can’t set up a Space Force by themselves, by the way. It’ll need Congressional approval, and support for it at the moment is certainly lukewarm at best.
If anything, this multi-billion-dollar exercise in ambiguity is an unnecessary expense at a time when the very same White House thinks that funding basic science is, for the most part, not worth it.