Pentagon Moves Forward With Space Force, Though Congress Hasn't Approved It Yet

The Pentagon can't create an entirely new branch of the military on its own. But it's moving forward where it can.


Ivan Cholakov/

Congress has yet to approve President Donald Trump's proposed Space Force, but that hasn't kept the Defense Department from moving forward as far as it can with the idea.

Defense One reports:

In coming months, Defense Department leaders plan to stand up three of the four components of the new Space Force: a new combatant command for space, a new joint agency to buy satellites for the military, and a new warfighting community that draws space operators from all service branches. These sweeping changes—on par with the past decade's establishment of cyber forces—are the part the Pentagon can do without lawmakers' approval.

The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act directed the Pentagon to come up with a plan for how the Space Force would work. Defense One has obtained a 14-page draft of the plan that lawmakers will receive tomorrow. It says the new branch will "protect our economy through deterrence of malicious activities, ensure our space systems meet national security requirements and provide vital capabilities to joint and coalition forces across the spectrum of conflict."

By the end of 2018, the Pentagon plans to have launched a U.S. Space Command to "oversee space forces from across the military," Defense One says. Around the beginning of 2019, military officials hope to send to Congress a "legislative proposal for the authorities necessary to fully establish the Space Force," according to the draft report.

It sounds like the Pentagon shares Trump's enthusiasm for the Space Force. But it's not a good idea, for several reasons. According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited a 2016 study from the Government Accountability Office, there are already "60 distinct entities that deal with assets in space." And the U.S. already has a kind of Space Force: the Air Force Space Command, which employs more than 36,000 people. Is there really a need to make the Space Command larger, or to add to the alphabet soup of space agencies?

Furthermore, as I explained earlier this month:

The U.N. Outer Space Treaty puts some limits on the militarization of space: It bans the use of weapons of mass destruction outside the Earth's atmosphere, and it prohibits the installation of military bases on asteroids or the moon. But as the University of Kent's Gbenga Oduntan writes, the treaty does not preclude member countries from deploying other kinds of weapons in space. If the Space Force triggers an extraterrestrial arms race, we could see "a total disruption of the agreed law that outer space is the common heritage of all humankind."

If the Pentagon is rushing forward with the idea, it'll fall to Congress to apply the brakes and think harder about the negative ramifications.