President Trump said he is "directing" the Pentagon to immediately begin the process of creating a sixth military service—a Space Force, going against the repeated public positions of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and USAF leadership.
"I am hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces," Trump said. " That's a big statement. We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force separate but equal. It's going to be something."
Trump's announcement, made during a meeting of the National Space Council in the East Room of the White House, was a surprise to many in the Pentagon. The Air Force directed all questions to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which has not responded to a request for comment.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford was in the crowd when the announcement was made, and told Trump, "We got you" when Trump asked him to "carry out that assignment."
While the announcement immediately created waves throughout the Pentagon and Capitol Hill, there will be a long process ahead before it can come to fruition. Congressional action will be needed to create a new military branch. The President is the Commander in Chief of the US armed forces, but Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to organize and arm the military.
Before the US Air Force was created, President Truman first sent a draft of the National Security Act of 1947 to Congress in February 1947. The House and Senate held several hearings on the topic and in June of that year, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the bill. The final legislation, which established the Office of the Secretary of National Defense and co-equal services, incuding a US Air Force, was then approved. Truman signed the National Security Act on July 26, 1947. (See also: The Founding of the Force from Air Force Magazine's archive.)
The idea to create a separate uniformed service focused on space, which would take away a large part of the USAF portfolio and budget, has been floated in Congressional hearings and rejected amendments to authorization bills for the last year. In 2017, Mattis and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson wrote letters to lawmakers opposing the move because USAF already is taking "significant steps" to address the importance of space.
The creation of a Space Force, Wilson said, "would create additional seams between the services, disrupt ongoing efforts to establish a warfighting culture and new capabilities, and require costly duplication of personnel and resources."
Mattis, in his letter, said while he shared concern about the organization and management of space capabilities, a "properly integrated approach" is needed. "It is premature to add organizational and administrative tail to the department at a time I am trying to reduce overhead," he wrote.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) has been Capitol Hill's greatest proponent of creating a new service, repeatedly criticizing the Air Force for not putting enough emphasis on space capabilities and limiting investment. Rogers said on Twitter that he is "thrilled" that Trump is supporting the move and that he looks forward to making it a reality.
Some in the Pentagon have shown willingness to move in this direction, but have cautioned against doing so quickly. USAF Gen. John Hyten, commander of US Strategic Command, said in March that the creation of a separate service for space will happen eventually, but the Defense Department is not ready for that change.
The Pentagon, led by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, has conducted an interim evaluation on whether a new service would be needed. The report was due this month, but has not yet been released.
"My focus has been to get at what are the fundamental changes we need to make in order to be more effective. The output of that is a recommendation on how to restructure," Shanahan told reporters in April. "From a management standpoint, the easiest thing to do is re-draw the lines and boxes on an [organization] chart, but that's actually the hardest thing to implement."
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