U.S. Space Force Creation – The Path Forward

Published: February 21, 2019

USAFBudgetDEFENSEPolicy and LegislationPresident Trump

Initial plans are for the new military branch to operate a under the Air Force, but Congress will have the final say.

President Trump has signed Space Policy Directive-4, (SPD-4) directing the Department of Defense (DoD) to send a proposal to the White House recommending the establishment of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. The new military branch would reside under the Air Force, at least initially, similar to how the Marine Corps operates under the Department of the Navy.

The latest directive comes about eight months after Trump initially announced his intention to create a new space-centric military branch to address the increasingly contested space domain. Since then, the DoD has been performing its due diligence and along the way some potential Space Force details have leaked to the media. In December, the President ordered the creation of the U.S. Space Command in a related, complementary, but still district effort from that of a Space Force.

Among those attending the White House signing ceremony were Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser John Bolton, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Paul Selva.

Space Force Vision and Goals – The drivers behind the new creation are three-fold: Strengthen U.S. ability to compete, deter and win in the increasingly contested space domain; organize, train and equip space warfighters with next-generation capabilities; and maximize our warfighting capability while minimizing bureaucracy.

Operational Reviews to Improve Capabilities – SPD-4 launches a joint interagency review by the National Space Council and the National Security Council to recommend changes to space operational authorities to address the threats posed by foreign adversaries. The Directive also requires the DoD and the Intelligence Community (IC) to create collaborative mechanisms to improve space capabilities and operations.

The Path Forward – SPD-4 directs the on the Secretary of Defense to develop a legislative proposal to submit to Congress that would establish the Space Force and Shanahan, who has led the ongoing development effort within the DOD, is expected to submit the proposal by the end of February, according to reports from both Defense One and Space News. The fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget is expected to include details of the funding needed for its creation.

The initial placement of the Space Force within the Department of the Air Force takes an incremental approach to the complex and costly endeavor of launching a new military branch. It also appears to remove – or at least attempt to address - several concerns and hurdles raised by some in the Pentagon and in Congress.

Ultimately, Congress has the final say on whether or not the Space Force will be created – within the Air Force or eventually elevated on par with the Air Force, Army and Navy. Initial reports seem to suggest support may fall along political party lines, at least until the details are on the table.