A newly released directive indicates that President Trump is standing by his idea to create an independent Space Force as the sixth official military branch—a proposal that has been met with skepticism in Congress. But an Oct. 26 White House memo reveals that, in the meantime, the Pentagon has been seeking alternative ways to organize the military’s operations in space other than as its own independent arm, contrary to the president’s vision.
The memo, first reported on Wednesday by national security news site Defense One, suggests that the Pentagon was considering housing the Space Force under the Air Force, just as the Marines are part of the Navy. According to the report, some White House officials worry that an independent department would receive little support in Congress, which would have to approve and fund the first new branch of the military in more than seven decades. It isn’t clear how much a separate Space Force department would cost, but experts agree that, even using existing military resources, it would be in the billions.
Politico reported Thursday that a Nov. 19 presidential directive, sent three weeks after the memo asking for the Pentagon to research alternatives, laid out information about the full Space Force department as the president envisions it. The Space Force would organize “national security space forces of the United States to ensure unfettered access to and freedom to operate in space,” protect “the nation’s interests in space,” and defend the U.S. and its interests “from hostile acts in and from space.” It would not do anything particularly scientific, as that will still be the purview of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and it would leave spy satellites to the National Reconnaissance Office. The department would, like the Army, Navy, and Air Force, be headed by a civilian secretary and a high-ranking military officer who would serve alongside fellow Department of Defense leaders as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Pentagon plans to deliver a full legislative proposal to the Office of Management and Budget this week. According to Politico, the proposal was drafted to allow the Space Force to shrink or expand to whatever will be palatable for Congress. But no matter the scale, a full Space Force that costs billions and lacks a clear role in the larger U.S. military will likely be a hard sell in Congress.