There’s a pretty big problem with Trump’s space force declaration

19 Jun 2018

US president Donald Trump entering Air Force One. Image: Andrea Hank/The White House

US president Donald Trump seems to be pretty serious about creating a whole new branch of the military in space, but he has an almighty challenge ahead of him to do so.

In March, the US commander in chief raised more than a few eyebrows when he suggested the creation of a whole new branch of the military called the ‘space force’ in an attempt to militarise the cosmos ahead of the biggest US rivals, including China and Russia.

Sparking fears that wars will soon be taken to Earth’s orbit, Trump told a gathering of servicepeople: “Space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air and sea.

“We may even have a space force, develop another one, space force. We have the Air Force, we’ll have the space force.”

If his comments seemed off the cuff, it is because they were – there was no official documentation issued to suggest that the Air Force’s role in space was about to be diminished.

But now, just a few months later, Trump again reiterated his desire to create a new space force during a speech at a National Space Council meeting. He went so far as to single out General Joseph F Dunford Jr – the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military – to carry it out.

‘We got it’

“General Dunford, if you would carry that assignment out, I would be very greatly honoured,” Trump said, according to The New York Times, with Dunford replying: “We got it.”

This is despite the fact there was no indication that this was to be said at the meeting, rather it was arranged to sign into action a framework for directing commercial traffic and debris in orbit.

Immediately after his appearance, the media was scrambling to find out whether a space force branch of the military is indeed being created.

A spokesperson for the Department of Defense did respond to questions, saying: “We understand the president’s guidance.

“Our policy board will begin working on this issue, which has implications for intelligence operations for the air force, army, marines and navy. Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.”

The mention of the US Congress is crucial here because Trump can’t simply create a whole new branch of the military on a whim – he must receive the approval of policymakers.

Adding further criticism to Trump’s declaration, Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said that if it were to be created, it would at best just create further bureaucracy.

“At worst, it is the first step in an accelerated competition between the US, China and Russia in the space realm that is going to be more difficult to avert without direct talks about responsible rules of the road,” he added.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic