WASHINGTON — Vice President Pence promoted a proposed Space Command on Thursday as “an idea whose time has come” in comments at the Pentagon to unveil a few more details about President Trump’s plan to create another military force, this one for outer space, and to be in operation by 2020.
Mr. Trump’s space dreams still have to go through a divided Congress to come true, but initially reluctant Pentagon officials have lined up behind the proposal and now say that they will do what they can to bring it to fruition.
“The time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation,” Mr. Pence told an audience at the Pentagon. He called for Congress to allocate an additional $ 8 billion for space security systems over the next five years.
Mr. Trump, for his part, tweeted on Thursday: “Space Force All the Way!”
But that may be a tall order. The administration cannot just create a Space Force on its own; it has to go through Congress, where critics abound. Even Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was once a critic. In a letter last year when Congress was considering a space corps, Mr. Mattis said he did not want to add “additional organizational and administrative tail” to the military. He said a space corps “would likely present a narrower and even more parochial approach to space operations.”
But that was before the president abruptly announced in June that he wanted a space force. On Thursday, introducing Mr. Pence, Mr. Mattis said that space “is becoming a contested war-fighting domain and we have to adapt to that reality.”
The Pentagon unveiled a report with steps that would be necessary to create a space force, known as United States Space Command. The Pentagon recommended that the space force initially be under the purview of the Air Force.
Proponents of a Space Force argue that the Air Force does not pay enough attention to outer space. What’s more, they say, Russia and China are developing antisatellite weapons that could pose a threat to American satellites.
“We could be deaf, dumb and blind within seconds,” Rep. Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee and an advocate of the idea, told a February space forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Seldom has a great nation been so vulnerable.”
The concern about antisatellite weaponry from Russia and China is a real one, Pentagon officials and aerospace experts say. A United States intelligence assessment of threats in February warned that Russia and China will be able to shoot down American satellites within two to three years. Such a capability, which both countries are believed to be developing, could potentially destroy American global-positioning system satellites, as well as military and civilian communications satellites, to say nothing of the country’s fleet of spy satellites.
The GPS satellites help to guide aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, drones in the skies above Yemen and fighter jets over Syria. American ground troops on patrol in Afghanistan use GPS coordinates to track their movement, and intelligence officers depend on spy satellites to gather information on adversaries.