Trump’s space force idea, which the president has been tossing around for some time now, has garnered much more attention since Vice President Pence’s speech a few weeks ago. There is a massive amount of commentary already out there that discusses this proposal, so I’m not going to write up a whole post simply regurgitating what you can find on the news. Instead, I want to list a few salient points that I think are being ignored outside of defense circles, as I find many of them to be interesting and extremely relevant to debates about the utility and wisdom of standing up a sixth branch. I also plan on raising questions (that I don’t know the answer to) in order to spur you to think more deeply about this proposal.
1. Trump doesn’t have the authority to create a new service branch; this is a privilege only enjoyed by Congress. As it stands, Congress seems fairly skeptical.
2. Despite what a lot of unreflective and uninformed talking heads seem to be suggesting, this idea isn’t obviously stupid or ill-informed. Indeed, similar proposals have been floating around in the defense and think tank communities for many years.
3. Notwithstanding my second point, I don’t think this is a wise idea because space, as a domain, is far too undeveloped to warrant its own military branch. Instead, the ad hoc experimentation already occurring needs to probably remain diffused throughout the military for at least another decade or two before we move to create a space force.
4. Trump needs to be much more specific about his vision. Does he simply want to create a space command? And, if so, does he want it to be a geographic combatant command that has operational control over assets within its AO, or does he envision it to be more akin to JSOC, a semi-autonomous component command that has its own Assistant Secretary of Defense? Does Trump want to create a branch that, like the Marine Corps, is siloed within another department (likely the Department of the Air Force in this case)? Or, does he feel the need to create a separate Department of the Space Force?
5. How, exactly, will the creation of a giant new bureaucracy aid the development of U.S. space capabilities and not simply further gunk up the system and suck up precious defense dollars? And, relatedly, where will the funding and physical assets come from? Will USAF and the Navy simply hand over their satellites and ASATs, or will their efforts just be duplicated by the Space Force? Similarly, what will happen to the NRO and other intel agencies that operate largely or exclusively within the space domain – do they remain within the IC, or are they subsumed within the Space Force?
6. To extrapolate from my 5th point, what exactly is the point of a space force? The Air Force and Navy already perform a wide range of space-related missions, and the intel community also maintains a sizeable presence above the atmosphere. It is unclear to me, therefore, what a new branch would add. I don’t think Trump knows either, which explains why his statements so far have been such a muddled mess.
7. At the very least, maybe the threat of a new branch sucking up funding will force the rest of the military to take space more seriously in order to justify their budgets and, perhaps, even prevent a new rival branch from emerging.
8. I don’t know what the rank structure is going to look like, but if Trump and DoD choose land forces ranks instead of naval ranks, I’m going to be upset (though this would be acceptable for a Space Marine Corps).