Donald Trump signs order to create Space Command amid fears over Chinese and Russian programs
There are concerns that Russia and China are working on ways to attack US satellites. (NASA/JPL: Peter Rubin)
US President Donald Trump has launched the Pentagon’s new Space Command to advance the military’s vast operations in space, a project that could cost as much as $1.1 billion over the next five years.
- Space Command is considered a first step in creating Mr Trump’s much-touted Space Force
- The defence department says Space Command will accelerate space capabilities and defend US assets in space
- The US is increasingly reliant on orbiting satellites that are difficult to protect
Speaking at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, Vice-President Mike Pence said, “a new era of American national security in space begins today”.
The move comes amid growing concerns that China and Russia are working on ways to disrupt, disable or even destroy US satellites.
The new command will oversee and organise space operations, accelerate technical advances and find more effective ways to defend US assets in space, including the vast constellations of satellites that American forces rely on for navigation, communications and surveillance.
The new order is separate from the President’s much-touted goal of creating a “Space Force” as an independent armed service branch, but is considered a first step in that direction.
The memo provides little detail on what will be a long and complicated process as the Defence Department begins to pull together various space units from across the military services into a more coordinated, independent organisation.
According to one US official, the command would pull about 600 staff from existing military space offices, and then add at least another 1,000 over the coming years.
First steps toward ‘Space Force’
Army Lieutenant Colonel Joe Buccino, spokesman for Deputy Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan, said establishing Space Command was “a critical step” to accelerate space capabilities, defend “vital national interests and deter our adversaries”.
“This combatant command will lead space operations and develop space warfighting doctrine, tactics and techniques,” he said.
He added that the Pentagon would continue to develop a legislative proposal to meet the President’s vision for a space force.
The first steps next year will be to nominate top leaders for Space Command, including a four-star general and a deputy.
Funding for the command will be included in the budget for fiscal year 2020, which will be unveiled in February.
Mr Trump’s order accelerates what has been a decades-long effort to reorganise and improve the military’s technological advances in space, which at times has gotten less attention as the Air Force has focused on warplanes and other combat priorities.
The military’s role in space has been under scrutiny because the United States is increasingly reliant on orbiting satellites that are difficult to protect.
Satellites provide communications, navigation, intelligence and other services vital to the military and the national economy.
Over the past year, the issue gained urgency amid growing competition and threats from adversary nations.
US intelligence agencies reported earlier this year that Russia and China were pursuing “non-destructive and destructive” anti-satellite weapons for use during a future war. And there are growing worries about cyberattacks that could target satellite technology, potentially leaving troops in combat without electronic communications or navigation abilities.
A US Space Command existed from 1985 to 2002, but was disbanded in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks so that US Northern Command could be established, focusing on defence of the homeland.