Trump Calls For 'Space Force' To Defend U.S. Interests Among The Stars The president wants a "separate but equal branch" of the military to watch over the final frontier, but only Congress can make it happen.

Trump Calls For 'Space Force' To Defend U.S. Interests Among The Stars

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At a White House meeting today of the National Space Council, President Trump unexpectedly announced a new directive for the Pentagon - the creation of a new branch of the military. Trump is calling it a space force. NPR's David Welna explains it would take more than a presidential order to make that happen.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: A space force did not figure at all in the presidential decree that Trump signed today. That was mainly about dealing with all the space junk that's orbiting this planet, but Trump told an audience of big defense contractors, lawmakers and the military that an American presence in space is not enough. What's needed is American dominance in space.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And 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. That's a big statement.

WELNA: Trump then borrowed a phrase once used to justify racial segregation.


TRUMP: We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the space force - separate but equal.

WELNA: But if there's going to be a space force, it would first need the approval of Congress. Last year, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson acknowledged to a Senate panel that warfare is indeed going into orbit.


HEATHER WILSON: We expect space to be a contested domain, and our adversaries are moving forward very quickly. And they see that we are vulnerable in space. And we need to anticipate that any future conflict will involve conflict in space.

WELNA: But Wilson also argued against expanding the Pentagon's military branches - something that was last done 71 years ago with the creation of the Air Force. Todd Harrison directs the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He says Congress - last year - ordered a study on the viability of a space force after the House and the Senate failed to agree on creating one. Harrison expects things will start moving faster with Trump's directive today.

TODD HARRISON: The main opponent to creating a space force had been the Pentagon - and particularly the Air Force. Now that the president has given this order, they're not going to be able to oppose it, or it's unlikely that they will.

WELNA: And while a space force would constitute a sixth branch of the military, no sixth side to the Pentagon is being planned. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

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