WASHINGTON — The debate is over. The United States will have a Space Force as a separate branch of the military.

In a joint appearance at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence laid out the Trump administration’s plan to create a U.S. Space Force. It was only seven weeks ago that President Trump directed DoD to begin the process.

The president has made it a priority to “restore America’s proud history of leadership in space,” Pence said. “Space is essential to the nation’s security and prosperity.”

The Defense Department has to “prepare for the next battlefield,” said Pence. “The time has come to establish the United States Space Force. It’s not enough to have an American presence in space, we must have dominance.”

Pence argued that the United States did not start this arms race. “Our adversaries already have transformed space into a war fighting domain and the United States will not shrink from this challenge.”

Pence acknowledged that creating a new branch “is not simple process.”

The vice president came to the Pentagon to release a report that Congress ordered in last year’s defense policy bill laying out options to create a separate service for space.  The report was to be released last week by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan but the White House asked for last minute revisions. Pence has been the administration’s point man for space issues and the White House decided he should be the administration official rolling out the DoD report.

The report says the “Department of Defense will marshal space resources into a Space Force. The Space Force will protect our economy through deterrence of malicious activities, ensure our space systems meet national security requirements, and provide vital capabilities to joint and coalition forces.”

The DoD report dated August 9 is titled “Final Report on Organizational and Management Structure for the National Security Space Components of the Department of Defense.” It leaves no doubt that the Pentagon is on board with the Space Force plan despite earlier reservations. It notes that “presidential leadership and congressional support have set the environment for dramatic improvement of our national space capabilities. The president has articulated a compelling vision for a Space Force that protects the U.S. economy and way of life.”

The report lays out four steps that it will take to start the reorganization the military with a goal of creating a fully independent Space Force within a few years, depending on how quickly Congress moves to pass legislation. Things could get contentious on Capitol Hill as the Space Force issue has taken a more partisan tone. Although Democrats have supported the idea in the past, some may withdraw support depending on the outcome of the mid-term election in November.

Without any new legislation and using existing authorities, DoD will establish several of the component parts of the Space Force. The second phase requires Congress to combine these components into the sixth branch of the armed forces.

The Pentagon immediately will take four actions:

Establish a Space Development Agency to develop and field “space capabilities at speed and scale.” Pence said this is needed to expedite innovation and lean out red tape.The Air Force has already begun to transform its Space and Missile Systems Center but DoD will “accelerate and extend this transformation to all services by creating a joint Space Development Agency.”
Develop a Space Operations Force to provide expertise to combatant commanders and the Space Development Agency, and surge expertise in time of crisis.
Create the governance and support functions of the Space Force. Many of these items will require changes to U.S. law. The Department will build a legislative proposal for congressional consideration as a part of the Fiscal Year 2020 budget cycle. Pence said the administration will create a single civilian position reporting to the secretary of defense to oversee the growth and expansion of the new branch. Initially an assistant secretary of defense for space, this position will be “key to the critical transition to a fully independent Secretary of the Space Force in the years ahead,” said Pence.
Stand up a U.S. Space Command, led by a four star general or flag officer, to lead the use of space assets. U.S. Space Command will be responsible for directing the employment of the Space Force. This also will require Congress to authorize a four-star general unless DoD moved to eliminate one of the existing four-star commands.

Congress’ most ardent proponents of a separate service for space commended Pence’s remarks. In a joint statement, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), respectively chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces said, “We have been warning for years of the need to protect our space assets and to develop more capable space systems. We are glad that the Pentagon is finally taking these steps in enhancing our space strength. We particularly appreciate Deputy Secretary Shanahan’s leadership on these issues and look forward to the establishment of a much-needed independent Space Force.”

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...