Meet Space Force, Trump’s new military branch

New frontier? NASA says there are already over 500,000 pieces of debris orbiting the Earth.

Is a new force to protect America in space a good idea? Launching this week, Donald Trump says it will keep the US ahead of China and Russia, but some fear the militarisation of the cosmos.

In 1775, a year before the Declaration of Independence was ratified, the US set up the first three branches of its military: the Army, the Navy and the Marine Corps. In 1907, the Air Force was set up. Eight years later, the Coast Guard was established. And now, in 2018, a sixth branch of the US military is in the pipeline: the Space Force.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump officially launched the Pentagon’s new Space Command. “We must have American dominance in space,” he said when the plans were first announced, and added that the new force would be “separate but equal” to the Air Force.

You may have some questions. Will starship troopers emblazoned with the stars and stripes soon be roaming the solar system?

That’s still not certain. The Space Command Trump ordered this week is just the first step towards a full Space Force, which would require an act of Congress.

But if it is set up, what would a Space Force do?

One of its main tasks would be to prevent satellites, space stations and debris from crashing into each other as they orbit Earth. This is something America already does working with other nations.

But in many ways, its role would be very similar to other branches of the armed forces: the demonstration of total military superiority.

As the former secretary of the National Space Council, Mark Albrecht, says: “Everything from financial transactions to the GPS that guides your car is controlled from space or at least facilitated by space.”

And so, he argues, military activity in space is “not materially different from the US Navy, which goes around the Pacific and the Atlantic… not to create trouble or to cause wars, but to make sure that all the things we enjoy are protected.”

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 forbids any country from claiming any part of space, but that does not mean military action in space is illegal.

Sean O’Keefe, a former head of NASA and Navy secretary, has called the plans “a solution in search of a problem.”

Would the creation of a Space Force really be such a good idea?

Star Wars

Yes, say some. Russia and China are both keen to gain more power in space. They are rivals, not friends — and the US must keep pace with them. There is already a large amount of military hardware in space, and it is crucial for fighting wars. The US should prepare for anything: we have no real idea what the future of warfare holds.

Bad idea, reply others. “A Space Force doesn’t mean more space weapons,” writes Rachel Becker for The Verge. It simply means an extra layer of bureaucracy inside an already massive organisation: the Pentagon. It would stoke up conflict where none really exists. Space does not need to be yet another theatre for Earth’s squabbles.

You Decide

  1. Will the major wars of the next millennium take place in space?
  2. Should countries be able to claim parts of space for themselves?

Activities

  1. Design an advertisement encouraging people to come and work for the new US Space Force.
  2. Draw up a new space treaty setting out what nations can and cannot do in the cosmos.

Some People Say...

“Space exploration is a force of nature unto itself that no other force in society can rival.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump ordered the creation of a Space Command, which will initially be part of the Air Force. It is part of a longer term plan to set up a sixth branch of the US armed forces: the Space Force. However, this requires an act of Congress. We know that Russia and China are both taking steps to ensure power in any future space wars.
What do we not know?
Whether it will ever actually be set up. The Air Force is adamantly against the plan, and Trump’s secretary of defence, James Mattis, has previously said he is also opposed to “the creation of a new military service and additional organisational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting efforts.”

Word Watch

Declaration of Independence
One of the most important documents in the history of the United States. Ratified on July 4, 1776, the document states that Americans are no longer under British rule and that the 13 British colonies could come together to form a new country.
The Pentagon
The headquarters of the US Defence Department, the Pentagon is located in Arlington, Virginia — right next to Washington DC. It is the largest building in the world by surface area and was hit by a plane on 9/11.
National Space Council
A body within the executive office of the president of the United States that advises the president on his policies for space.
Outer Space Treaty of 1967
As well as forbidding any country from claiming parts of space, the treaty also bans placing weapons of mass destruction in space, and limits the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes, expressly prohibiting their use for testing weapons of any kind.