'Space force': Trump orders new branch of US military

David Smith in Washington

Donald Trump said on Monday he would direct the Pentagon to create a “space force” as a new branch of the US military to shore up American dominance in space.

Trump claimed that the plan will ensure that America, which plans a return to the moon and a mission to Mars, stays ahead of China and Russia in any new space race. But it is likely to raise fears over the militarisation of space and prompted a slew of Twitter parodies featuring Star Trek and Star Wars.

“Very importantly, I’m 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,” the president said at the White House.

“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 is going to be something so important.”

Trump asked Gen Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, to carry out the assignment. Dunford replied: “We got it.”

The president added: “Let’s go get it, general. But that’s the importance that we give it. We’re going to have the space force.”

The president was speaking at the third meeting of the National Space Council, revived after a quarter of a century. He was joined by Mike Pence, the new Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine and former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon.

But there was a sceptical reaction from Bill Nelson, the Democratic senator for Florida, home of Cape Canaveral. He tweeted: “The president told a US general to create a new Space Force as 6th branch of military today, which generals tell me they don’t want. Thankfully the president can’t do it without Congress because now is NOT the time to rip the Air Force apart. Too many important missions at stake.”

During his remarks, Trump promised that America will always be first in space and that national pride is at stake. “It’s going to be important monetarily and militarily,” he added. “But so important for right up here – the psyche. We don’t want China and Russia and other countries leading us.”

He insisted: “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. So important.”

Trump has floated the idea of a space force before but met both mockery and high-level resistance. Last October, his own defence secretary Jim Mattis wrote in a memo: “I oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting functions.”

On Monday Trump also signed a policy directive for reducing satellite clutter in space. It sets up new guidelines for satellite design and operation to avoid collisions and spacecraft breakups.