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Welcome to the New Space Age

(OP: JULY 13, 2018)

The United States military is made up of five branches: Army, Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, and the Navy. Last month, President Donald Trump suggested that a sixth branch be added -- the Space Force.

At the National Space Council meeting, Trump called upon the Pentagon to formally construct the branch to ensure “dominance on a high frontier.” At the same meeting, Trump also signed the Space Policy Directive, which calls for the establishment of new procedures to manage the increased number of satellites in low-Earth orbit. These proposed protocols would also monitor the vast amount of space debris that pose a threat to costly spacecrafts. These proposals come after President Trump’s suggestion that the U.S. may be falling behind in military capability.

Gaining Support

Last week on CBS’s “The Takeout,” NASA Chief Jim Bridenstine commented on the Space Force. He noted that space has become “congested, contested, and in some cases hostile,” which he warns could become dangerous. He believes that the inauguration of a Space Force could potentially serve as a solution.

Mike Rogers, a Republican Representative from Alabama, also praised the idea and firmly believes a Space Force is necessary for reasons of national security.

A Competing Offer

However, some military strategists argue that a Space Force may not be the answer to President Trump’s concerns. The Coast Guard is a military service within the Department of Homeland Security, and some strategists and political scientists believe a “Space Guard” could be a better proposal.

One former Trump aide favors a Space Guard because involving the military alone with a Space Force could bring “international blowback.” In an interview with POLITICO, the former official remarked that in an international environment, it is best to act rationally and logically. The official also noted that China and Russia are two of the biggest players in the international system, and finding ways to work with them rather than challenge them will be the best course of action.

The proposed Space Guard would accomodate civilian needs as well as military ones. If put into action, the Guard would enforce regulations to manage a growing civilian space economy, which would include moon bases and asteroid mining.

Though NASA Chief Bridenstine initially voiced his support for a Space Force, he is also open to the idea of a Space Guard as an alternative. When asked about it at a recent POLITICO Keynote interview, he noted that it was an “interesting concept,” while adding that with all the civilian activity that will be happening in space in the next few decades, the U.S. could use this kind of capability.

There are still talks surrounding the creation of either branch, but President Trump’s public discussions have opened the gates and could signal a the start of a new branch dedicated to Space protection. Reaching the midway point of the President’s first term, time will tell if the Trump administration will find its way into the stars.