Trump Forgets Congress Exists, Orders Creation of Space Force

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

Earlier today, Donald Trump bragged about the booming economy, defended his policy of separating refugee parents from their children, declared that one of his favorite places to visit is Alabama, and threatened to fire a new agency head if he screwed up.

In other words, a pretty standard rally speech he probably gave in Birmingham, Montgomery or someplace else in the Yellowhammer State (it’s a bird).

Only, in this case, he was in the White House at the third meeting of the National Space Council, whose agenda focused on space traffic management and how to leverage commercial activities in exploring the moon.

Trump didn’t disappoint here, either. Overshadowing the progress in these areas and the efforts of his vice president, Mike Pence, who chairs the council, Trump ordered the Pentagon to create an independent, separate but equal branch of the military: the Space Force. This new military service, which would be carved primarily out of the U.S. Air Force, would enable the America to dominate space, the president said.

Of course, Trump can’t simply order the Pentagon to do something so momentous; it will require the ascent of Congress, as Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) helpfully pointed out.

A similar message came from the office of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“Our Policy Board will begin working on this issue, which has implications for intelligence operations for the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy,” spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement. “Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.”

So, stay tuned. The political fight has just begun.

  • voronwae

    My impression is that a bunch of folks in the Administration saw that commercial space is growing and wanted to be able to claim credit for it in the 2020 elections. “Already our trimming of space regulations is responsible for these three great new commercial rockets!” But then Trump started thinking about it and realized he could be the President that created the Space Force!!!. And in case you haven’t noticed it, there’s been a race between Congress’ efforts to create a new Space Command and the President’s own preference for a Space Force!!!, and Trump decided he’d go around Congress to get the credit.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    What kind of weapons will the USSF (United States Space Force) be equipped with?

  • AdmBenson

    I’m sure there’s a completely rational explanation for this. Theories:

    1) The Curiosity rover drilled a hole and found oil.
    2) Hitler really did escape to the moon along with his SS bodyguards.
    3) The ISS crew has been radicalized by ISIS propaganda.
    4) Intelligent asteroids are hellbent on destroying Earth.
    5) Space capsules look cooler with guns sticking out.
    6) We’ll be the dominant Space Force, because we’ll be the only Space Force.
    7) Saddam hid the WMD’s somewhere we haven’t looked yet.
    8) Voyager sent back a picture of a non-humanoid life form.
    9) NOAA, schmoa. Spend the money on space lasers.
    10) The White House escape pod needs protection.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The Space Force will be mostly more of a space guard, protecting both military and commercial assets in space and using space assets to support troops on the ground and naval assets at sea. You could probably add rescue when large numbers of tourists and workers enter soace and planetary protection in as well. It fits well with the new space age SpaceX and Blue Origin are creating from their new systems but historically folks seem to like to laugh about such things, until they are needed.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Laughing about them until they are needed is probably the right way to go. We can’t see what will make a space economy stick, so we don’t know what to protect. Since we don’t know what to protect we don’t know what systems to build. With no systems, we don’t know how to form our commands.

    Right now we need to protect recon satellites, WX satellites, GPS satellites, and communications satellites. That’s it, and those systems are already integrated into the existing armed forces as it is. There is no rush here, and the faster you artificially push this, the more likely you are to get it wrong. In fact if you form now, the Chinese and Russians will form their systems around any Space Force’s operational and organizational weak points, ensuring we’ll get it wrong. The United States Army Air Force did a fine job in two global scale theaters of war in WWII, with stronger outcomes than the USAF got out of subsequent wars.

  • AdmBenson

    The Space Guard that you describe has a largely benign set of missions focused on asset protection and rescue activities. However, the Space Force that Trump wants will likely be focused on the Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) mission. This is guaranteed to upset other countries who will wonder what gives the US the right to do that. It may even lead to war, if the Space Force starts shooting down satellites simply because of who they belong to. I think that this Space Force plan needs to be thoroughly debated in public and by congress before it becomes reality.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, but that was a result of changes done in the 1930’s giving it more independence. Prior to then it’s main job was seen as close air support and its aircraft reflected it. Only gradually was it seen as a separate strategic force. Forunately this was before the US entry into WW II. The Germans and Japanese air forces never really made that transition, although their Navy did, which was one reason they lost.

    The good thing is this will start the debate of the role of the military in the new space age being created by cheap reliable space access.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    What makes you think they’ll use Space X and BO hardware (assuming it’s inexpensive)? They may just say since Space X and BO can live in the wilds of the private market, they need to keep Lockheed and Boeing or Grumman going because they can’t. Also we’ve already made the wrong 1st move in creating a space force. It should come from the Navy and not the USAF. Spaceflight is much more like maritime operations than aviation. So already, IMO, we’re starting with the wrong culture.

  • Jeff2Space

    I’m with Senator Nelson on this. It’s not going to happen without the support of the USAF (who’d be giving up a lot to this new “Space Force”) and the support of Congress, who controls funding. No bucks, no Buck Rogers.

  • Paul_Scutts

    Phaser rifles and photon torpedoes, naturally. 🙂

  • ThomasLMatula

    You mean just like the USAF shoots down commercial airliners and Russian spy planes daily (LOL). No, it’s about focusing on keeping America space assets safe from nations that would want to destroy them. Our military, and economy, have become very dependent on comsats and GPS. We need to assure they will be there.

  • ThomasLMatula

    I agree, but unfortunately the US Navy only has a much smaller role in space. With luck that will be combined with the USAF assets and then a new culture will emerge driven, as cultures usually are, by the environment it will function in.

    In terms of hardware and it’s origin, the DOD is already launching on SpaceX and will likely continue to do so, especially as it will much better serve its needs. But we will see.

    Personality I see this debate being much like the one on air power in the 1930’s with a similar compromise, a space corps more independent then the one today but still part of the USAF.

    Remember, it took twenty years of rapid progress, and a World War, for the USAF to be completely independent. In the interim it slowly moved out from control of the infrantry generals and a close support role to its independent status. I expect a similar process will also take decades for the military in space, hopefully without any major war.

  • AdmBenson

    Say the Space Force blows away any Iranian satellites as part of a unilateral sanctions regime. Iran doesn’t have the means to respond in kind (i.e. American space assets are never threatened). How would Iran respond to this kind of provocation? How would US actions be viewed by the rest of the world? If we so urgently need a separate Space Force, why? Why now?

  • ThomasLMatula

    Why create space debris? It would be far more effective to just jam the signal, IF the US decides to set the precedent of doing so.

  • AdmBenson

    I’m thinking recoiless rifles. Maybe swords.

  • AdmBenson

    Yes, you can jam satellite signals, but it is difficult to do since satellites move fast relative to ground based jammers and it is next to impossible to jam continuously throughout the satellite’s orbital path. Blinding sensors is more effective in an effort to “brick” the satellite. It could be that the USAF has considered kidnapping a satellite with the X-37, but this is also problematic because you don’t know if the satellite is equipped with anti-tamper devices (i.e. booby-trapped) or not. Maybe the nascent Space Force could spear a non-cooperative satellite with a retro rocket equipped harpoon and then de-orbit it. Of course, the bad guys won’t stay idle and may come up with countermeasures. One that immediately comes to mind is to go small, as in satellites that resemble smartphones in size and power requirements.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Why grab it? Instead the X-37B could just release a jammer to co-orbit with the target…

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    Human-protomolecule hybrids.

  • AdmBenson

    Yes it could, but the obvious countermeasures are:

    1) Directional antennas
    2) Frequency agility
    3) Uplink or crosslink to a different satellite
    4) Spread spectrum modulation
    5) Optical or quantum communications methods
    6) Raptor coding
    7) Lowered bit rate
    8) MIMO antennas
    9) Bigger and more sophisticated ground antennas
    10) Active measures against the jamming satellite

    Despite countermeasures, jamming can still be effective, though. That’s why all the existing services have Electronic Warfare (EW) platforms. Not impossible, but not necessarily easy or cost effective to do in space. One other thing that makes EW in space problematic is that line of sight is not limited the way it is for terrestrial radios, so the EW effects aren’t localized and may cause problems for friendly assets too.

  • Bolters, lasguns and chainswords.

  • ThomasLMatula

    And so the dance of the attacker and defender goes on as it has throughout history.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The Soviets used a 20mm on their space station.

    Here Is the Soviet Union’s Secret Space Cannon
    In 1975, the USSR actually fired a cannon from an orbiting space station. Forty years later, we finally got a good look at this gun.

    BTW, The Russians created their own Russian Space Forces in 2015, as part of the Aerospace Force 🙂

    “On August 1, the Russian president signed decree No. 394 on appointing the
    Colonel-General [Viktor Bondarev] as the commander-in-chief of the
    Aerospace Forces, Lieutenant-General [Pavel] Kurachenko as chief of the
    Main Staff and first deputy commander-in-chief of the Aerospace Forces,
    Lieutenant-General [Alexander] Golovko as deputy commander-in-chief of
    the Aerospace Forces and commander of the Space Forces,” Shoigu said.”

  • AdmBenson

    True, but remember who gets paid for the dance: Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, etc. By the way, none of those entities will object in any way to the Space Force idea. Any engineering challenges will be waved away and PowerPoint presentations will be created to show our brave young people protecting America against the forces of pure evil.

    Why do we need a Space Force?
    Because, that’s how America rolls, baby!

  • Tom Billings

    “Why do we need a Space Force?
    Because, that’s how America rolls, baby!”

    No, because the US finds 3 large nations that see themselves as rivals to the US, and they have a far longer history of imperial activity compared to the US. Worse, they each are sliding backward towards a less industrial and more imperial worldview, in which they fully intend to be dominant. The multiple reactions against industrial society and culture are not yet done, so we will still need MilSpace assets. Needing them, we will have to spend the money to keep them functioning if used against the military operations of these 3 nations who already have access to Space.

    IMHO, that will require logistical work more than “shooters” during the first decades of a Space Force. We will need to have both “responsive launch” from Earth for many smaller satellites instead of the few large expensive ones of the last 5 decades, and an alternate logistical route to orbit, from the upper levels of the Earth/Moon gravity well. My pick for that is EML-1. Space manufacturing at EML-1 will provide that alternative logistical route that makes it less useful to try to stop “responsive launch” from the Earth’s surface. In general, it will also make it less useful to try to force pre-industrial attitudes on the industrial world, including the US.

  • mlc449

    Space doesn’t belong to the US of A.

  • mlc449

    Hmm, sounds very much like the Strategic Missile Troops from a certain country Trump takes his orders from.

  • patb2009

    more like what happens if the Chinese blow away a few satellites.
    What are we going to do about it?

  • patb2009

    soft docking a vibrating payload is a big deal, it could disturb the gyros without killing the bird.

  • Tom Billings

    “Also we’ve already made the wrong 1st move in creating a space force. It
    should come from the Navy and not the USAF. Spaceflight is much more
    like maritime operations than aviation.”

    This was determined by 1960, when the Eisenhower Administration could not keep Congress from handing MilSpace to the AF and the CIA, and Kennedy handed space recon over to them definitively. Undoing that decision would take decades we don’t have.

    You are correct that the culture will have to change, but that must be done on the fly. The AF developed a culture justifying raids. While this is a useful method of war, it is *not* the primary need in Space, either today or in the future.

  • Tom Billings

    First, we need a Space Force to warn our Milsats to thrust away from interceptors. Yes, our MilSats will need maneuvering propellant for that, which supply is another good reason for the servicing satellites now under development. Before then, a Space Force will be tracking the Chinese assets in space, and can brick them by a number of means, especially those used in the stalk of the affected US satellites.

  • Tom Billings

    “Say the Space Force blows away any Iranian satellites as part of a unilateral sanctions regime.”

    More likely that a hotajieh extremist Khomeinist would use Iranian sats to try to intercept a US space asset, to help bring the return of the 12th Imam.

    “How would US actions be viewed by the rest of the world?”

    As usual, the anti-military statists in Europe would condemn any US response, while Russia and China would also. Nothing new there.

    “If we so urgently need a separate Space Force, why? Why now?”

    China and Russia and Iran are building to challenge US shepherding of world resources for industrial society around the world. In order to make the US bend without war on Earth’s surface, they will need to disappear the force multipliers we have in Space. Chinese PLA authors have waxed prolific on this for about 15 years by now.

    A Space Force can marshal the logistical buildup to make our assets so prolific in orbit that any single target is less worthwhile by an order of magnitude. They can bring responsive launch into being from the Earth’s surface. They can also encourage high orbit space manufacturing so that if trajectories from Earth are blocked, then sats can be brought down from the EML-1 point. Each of these makes it harder for the PLA or Russia, or even a hotajieh Khomeinist, to justify potting off a few LEO US Milsats to themselves.

    A Space Force can do this without going through the

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Wow, I agree with an entire Tom Billings post today! Wait, yup, temp in hell today is -2C. What an event. 🙂

  • Tom Billings

    Neither do the world’s oceans. Still, having the US Navy be the dominant force on the world’s oceans has been very good for industrial society’s trade networks. The key is, … “what policies will a US Space Force follow?”

    The ability of the US to keep its MilSpace force multipliers active against threats will help it keep the US Navy’s benefits to industrial society stable. A US Space Force will also guarantee that the US law of 2015, being the US enabling legislation for the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, will be followed by the US, especially if a US Space Guard, equivalent to our Coast Guard, enforces it on all US launched and supplied space activities.

    This should, once again, be beneficial to the spread of industrial society throughout the Solar System in coming decades.

  • Tom Billings

    Actually, it is the US House of Representatives that has led the push for a Space Corps/Force. The Senate has balked. The President has been briefed by Space Force advocates in the House, and he decided to bring the weight of the executive branch down on their side. Still, the Executive proposes in law, and Congress disposes. The President *did* make it clear to the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that he wants the USAF collaborators with the Senate to cool their jets.

  • Tom Billings

    “What kind of weapons will the USSF (United States Space Force) be equipped with?”

    Most importantly? Logistical “weapons”. In war the best sayings go “amateurs talk strategy, …professionals talk logistics”. Fortunately, within 5 years a US Space Force could be able to buy some BFR/BFS vehicles to lift 150 tons to LEO for $6 million a launch. That’s a *lot* of logistics capacity. Combined with in-space assembly/manufacturing, this will allow a US Space Force to multiply assets, and sources of new sats, to an extent that it becomes far less useful for any opponent to start potting them off or even bricking them.

  • Tom Billings

    “Hmm, sounds very much like the Strategic Missile Troops……”

    Those are artillery units, when all is said and done. Operations in Space are much closer to naval operations, even before any human crewed vehicles start being used after about 10 years or so.

  • AdmBenson

    If the new Space Force adopts a Star Trek style rank structure where even the deck apes are Ensigns, I predict utter failure. They’re going to need some sergeants or petty officers to make this thing work. The crustier, the better.

  • Steve Ksiazek

    I’m sure the Army didn’t want a separate Air Force branch back in 1947 either. We could probably just re-purpose the existing Air Force branch, since it seems that the other branches of the military have acquired their own air assets anyway.

  • ThomasLMatula

    I think you are referring to the Russian Space Force that was created by our partners in the ISS during the Obama Administration (2015).

  • Kenneth_Brown

    $6mil/launch? You dropped at least one zero there. Likely two if we’re talking governments.

    You also aren’t accounting for the massive new bureaucracy that will be put in place.

  • Kenneth_Brown

    Another massive government pork project. The US doesn’t even have manned space capability and another branch of the military-industrial complex is being proposed? Insanity. I don’t disagree that a small office administered by the Air Force that concentrates on space security issues wouldn’t be prudent, but not an entirely new agency with all of the costs that it will entail. I don’t see that we get value for money on the taxes we are already paying so there is no need to spend even more on stupid things.

  • Tom Billings

    Yes, the BFR *can* be made more expensive to operate than the figures announced by Musk. NASA has already demonstrated that. However, the $6 million is the baseline they will start from. Also, increasing costs can be pointed out easier since commercial versions of the same launcher will be flying alongside any Space Force launches.

    As to the existence of new hierarchy overhead, …we already have that cost, in the reprogramming of Space Command funding to other USAF purposes. Yes, a separate Staff focused on MilSpace will have a cost. The good news is that it will be focused on MilSpace units, instead of the others in the USAF. Intellect is good. Focused attention is better.

  • publiusr

    As for me–remand the Air Farce back into the Army Air Corps–and give the USAF budget to the Space Force. Launch Project Thor, and mothball the carriers.

    We have an immense logistical budget with the World War II/Cold War force projection that consists of bases, beans, bodies, bunks and bullets.

    With space strikes actually cheaper we can finally break the Pentagon from thinking we are still fighting the battle of Midway.