President Trump directs the Pentagon to create a Space Force as a "separate but equal" branch of the military.

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Trump: We’ll have the Air Force, we’ll have the Space Force ‘That’s a big statement’

What happened Monday at the White House?

The National Space Council meeting at the White House on Monday was supposed to be all about the Trump administration’s new approach to managing space traffic and debris. And the president was there to kick off the meeting and sign a policy directive that officially designates the Department of Commerce as the public face of the nations space-friendly economy.

Trump called for the United States to lead and reclaim its space heritage but quickly shifted gears to the military. “Beyond the Earth, is not only a matter of national identity, but a matter of national security. So important for our military. So important. And people don’t talk about it,” Trump said.

“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.”

Then he turned to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford and instructed him to “immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.”

Say what?

President Trump directs the Pentagon to create a Space Force as a "separate but equal" branch of the military.
President Trump directs the Pentagon to create a Space Force as a “separate but equal” branch of the military.

PENTAGON SCRAMBLES TO RESPOND DoD was slow to react to the president’s announcement presumably because only a handful of officials in OSD were alerted about it last week, and the press office was not prepared to address reporters’ questions. Even those who had been warned the president would bring up the Space Force at the NSC meeting didn’t know exactly what he would say. Over the past several months everyone could see that the Space Force has become a fascination of sorts for Trump, even though the Pentagon has opposed the idea.

In a statement hours later, DoD spokeswoman Dana White said:
“We understand the President’s guidance. Our Policy Board will begin working on this issue, which has implications for intelligence operations for the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy. Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.”

White House spokesman Raj Shah gave this statement to SpaceNews:
“The president’s National Strategy for Space calls for American leadership, preeminence, and freedom of action in space, and he sees a separate service focused on space as a critical piece of that end state.”

Later at a White House briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders added: “We’re in the beginning stages of it, and we’re going to work with the Department of Defense and the other relevant parties to put it into place.”

BOTTOM LINE Trump threw a big wrench into the Pentagon’s carefully laid out plans to study how best to reorganize the military’s space forces. The House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee had been pushing to create a Space Corps for the past two years. But the language never got past the Senate. The 2018 NDAA directed the Deputy Secretary of Defense to conduct a study and submit a final report by December 31, 2018.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? To make the Space Force a reality, Trump will need Congress to rewrite Title 10 of the United States Code that specifies the roles and missions of the armed forces. Most affected by the realignment would be the Air Force that today oversees about 90 percent of the military’s space funding, programs and personnel.

House Armed Services Ranking Democrat Adam Smith said it is “encouraging that President Trump wants to increase our focus on space, but any change of this kind would have to be legislated by Congress.” The House already passed a defense bill last year mandating the creation of a Space Corps, and the final version of that bill mandated an independent assessment of what authorities would be needed, Smith noted. “If President Trump wants to make such a change within the military services, he should come discuss his proposal with us.”



House appropriators approved $49.5 million to create a new “program of record for commercial satellite communications” within the Air Force.

Industry insiders told SpaceNews that the HAC-D language marks a major turning point in the years-long effort by the satellite services sector to increase its footprint in military communications.

By demanding a new procurement strategy and funding a commercial services program office, lawmakers are lighting a fire under the Air Force. The committee noted it has been disappointed so far by the lack of a long-term plan to buy commercial satellite communications services. Critics have said for years that the military is not taking advantage of the available capacity. Of 1,738 operational satellites in orbit today, 31 percent are for commercial communications.

Air Force officials have argued that efforts have been slow because the service has not had the procurement or the funding authority to buy commercial satcom services wholesale. Congress agreed, and in last year’s defense policy bill transferred the responsibility for buying commercial satcom from the Defense Information Systems Agency to the Air Force Space Command. This year’s appropriation bill goes further by making commercial satcom a “program of record.”

“The committee is looking holistically at the space architecture,” said one industry official. “This is a monumental move by the committee.”


The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center is being reorganized into what is known as SMC 2.0. Its vertical program structure will change to a horizontal “enterprise.” Instead of making decisions that benefit GPS or satcom or missile warning satellites, the future organization will take a broader view that balances things out.

“That type of change is really necessary, but it’s not enough” an industry executive tells SpaceNews.

The enterprise model has been very successful at the National Reconnaissance Office. “But if that’s all you do and you don’t make any other changes, it could take forever to get things staffed. And it would be incredibly expensive,” says the executive. Contractors hope that the enterprise organization will also make it a priority to “go faster.” That means using commercial-type contracting like “other transactions.”

Is SMC ready to change? The executive says the Air Force top leadership wants to “leverage commercial and go faster.” But the middle-management layer that is entrenched in the traditional ways of doing business will be a tough nut to crack. Vendors are hoping the SMC’s middle ranks will embrace “new mechanisms for faster contracting.”



Gen. John Hyten

Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, delivered an emotional speech last week at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, calling on the United States to “dream big” and invest in science and technology. “We in DoD have said basic research has to be tied to programs of record. That is not where the next big idea is going to come from,” he said. “I will be advocating to put basic research back in the forefront. That is where the big ideas will come from.” You can watch Hyten’s entire speech here


ULA’s CEO Tory Bruno, “The Other Rocket Man,” is trying to keep ULA relevant and financially healthy as it continues to face disruptive threats from SpaceX.

That quest is the subject of a feature story in Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine’s June issue:

“Bruno stays focused on the practicalities of re-tooling ULA for the future. For all his economies, trying to price-match SpaceX looks like a losing strategy. Even publishing a fixed price is hard, because each mission has unique requirements for orbit, payload, and time the customer is willing to wait. Still, mindful of how SpaceX advertises its bargain cost, Bruno did take a leap toward transparency with, a nifty service that allows a ULA customer to price out a launch the way car buyers can customize a vehicle.

“The basic sticker price there for an Atlas V launch is $109 million, compared to the $61 million Musk quotes for SpaceX’s comparable Falcon 9. Bruno is hoping his rocket’s flawless record will motivate customers to pay the higher price.”


House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Science space subcommittee, make the case for passage of the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act in an op-ed for SpaceNews.

“The bill empowers the Commerce Department to lead the promotion and regulation of private space activities so American industry can innovate, grow and compete,” the lawmakers write. “It creates a competitive regulatory environment so America becomes the country of choice for private sector space activities. All this while also protecting national security and fulfilling our Outer Space Treaty obligations.”

They are calling on the Senate to support the bill. Stay tuned.


Sandra Erwin’s On National Security column appears in every issue of SpaceNews magazine. Here are the most recent:

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Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...