Pence: Space Force Will Be Independent Service by 2020, Include Elite Operators

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a GOP unity rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Aug. 8, 2018. (Neil Blake/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)
Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a GOP unity rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Aug. 8, 2018. (Neil Blake/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

The vice president of the United States set an ambitious timeline for the creation of a Department of the Space Force as an independent branch of the military Thursday, saying it would be established by 2020, ultimately with a dedicated civilian service secretary.

In an address at the Pentagon ahead of the Defense Department's rollout of a report to Congress on the feasibility of a space force, Vice President Mike Pence announced plans to invest additional billions of dollars and to stand up a dedicated U.S. combatant command for space, as well as an elite Space Operations Force, akin to the military's U.S. Special Operations Command.

These developments come some seven weeks after President Donald Trump announced his plan to create a dedicated service branch for space, ordering the Pentagon to begin planning for a space force. At that point, the subject of a service branch for space had already been the subject of hot debate within the military and Congress. Leaders of the Air Force, which currently owns existing military operations regarding space, have argued that the service does not have the resources to support a separate space service.

But with Russia and China developing weapons that threaten U.S. satellites and investing in hypersonic technology, Pence said the nation could not afford inaction.

"What was once peaceful and uncontested is now crowded and adversarial," he said. " ... As President Trump has said, in his words, it's not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space. And so we will."

The report to Congress shows the Air Force will be closely involved with elements of the development of the new space force, although the two services will ultimately have no explicit linkage and separate leadership chains. The report recommends that the new combatant command, U.S. Space Command, be created by the end of this year, with the commander of Air Force Space Command temporarily "dual-hatted" to lead both.

Ultimately, the report shows, a four-star general or flag officer will exclusively lead Space Command.

The to-be-developed Space Operations Force, described by Pence as an elite entity, will include "joint space warfighters" who will "provide space expertise to combatant commanders … and surge expertise in time of crisis to ensure that space capabilities are leveraged effectively in conflict," the report states.

The force will be composed of personnel from all services, with experts in operations, intelligence, engineering, cyber and other disciplines made available to leaders of combatant commands. The Pentagon must be prepared to deploy teams of space operators to Europe and the Pacific by next summer, ready to "surge expertise forward in time of crisis," according to the report.

In addition to a Space Operations Force, Pence described plans for a Space Development Agency that would harness innovation in the field and deter bureaucratic drag.

"Men and women of the [DoD] have pioneered the most groundbreaking discoveries that have literally revolutionized space in our hours of need," he said.

Per the document, the first step for the DoD will be the establishment of the Space Development Agency, created out of the existing Air Force Space and Missile Center.

Next will be the creation of the Space Operations Force to provide expertise and surge capabilities to the combatant commands.

Third, the Pentagon will create the structure of the Space Force, working with Congress to make necessary changes to existing law to support the new service.

Fourth and final will be the creation of U.S. Space Command, responsible for "directing the employment of the Space Force," according to the report.

Pence cited plans to ask for an additional $8 billion for investment in space, saying the president's fiscal 2020 budget proposal next February will contain resources to begin building the Department of the Space Force in earnest. The department would first come together under an assistant secretary of defense for space, Pence said, and later receive a dedicated service secretary as development matured.

Pence's remarks and the 15-page document released by the Pentagon on Thursday left certain key questions unanswered. Still unclear is the planned end strength of the new space force, the total cost to build it and how the military plans to recruit and retain its members. No mention has been made of the force's planned rank structure, training pipeline or uniforms.

Pence did make one thing clear: Meeting the ambitious timeline to create the Department of the Space Force will require an all-out effort.

"There is much work to do. Success will demand the best of each of you," he said. " ... The American people deserve our very best, and they will have it."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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