WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump marked the return of the U.S. Space Command at a Rose Garden ceremony on Thursday, where he said the once-defunct agency would “boldly deter aggression” from foreign rivals, and move the country one step closer to establishing a sixth branch of the military focused solely on outer space.
Trump has eagerly pushed the idea of creating a new military branch that he has labeled the “Space Force,” but that idea still needs congressional approval. Thursday’s re-establishment of the Space Command, which Trump ordered Pentagon officials to revisit last year, is viewed as a precursor to the creation of an independent Space Force.
The new command will be tasked with coordinating all military and intelligence operations in space, including defending U.S. satellites in orbit. Those efforts were previously handled by the Defense Department’s Strategic Command.
“This is a landmark day, one that recognizes that centrality of space to America's national security and defense,” Trump said. “Space Com will boldly deter aggression and outpace America's rivals by far.”
Citing the changing nature of threats that have faced the country since its establishment, Trump said “the dangers to our country constantly evolve and so must we.”
“Those who wish to harm the United States, to seek to challenge us in the ultimately high ground of space … it’s going to be a whole different ballgame,” Trump said from the Rose Garden, where he was joined by Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Air Force Gen. John Raymond, who was confirmed by the Senate in June to serve as the new head of Space Command.
The U.S. Space Command was established in the 1980s as the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union intensified. The Reagan administration sought to create an agency housed under the Air Force that would coordinate missile defense and satellite surveillance.
The command was dissolved a year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as the country’s defense priorities changed with dueling wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As part of a military restructuring, the Space Command’s duties were absorbed by the Strategic Command.
Last year, in his push to establish a Space Force, Trump ordered the Pentagon to revive the Space Command as a separate entity. The new command will ultimately be tasked with overseeing the Space Force should Congress approve establishing a sixth military branch.
Support for a space-centric military force has been split in Congress, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle raising reservations about the cost involved with sustaining a new military branch.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said last May that a Space Force could cost up to $1 billion to $2 billion a year to operate, with up to $5 billion needed for initial startup costs.
Both the Democratic-led House and Republican-majority Senate have offered legislation to authorize the creation of a Space Force, though House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Washington) has recommended the branch be called Space Corps.
Esper, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday, called the re-establishment of the Space Command “the next crucial step toward the creation of an independent Space Force as an additional armed service.”
"To ensure the protection of America's interests in space, we must apply the necessary focus, energy and resources to the task, and that is exactly what Space Command will do.”
Also Thursday, the president announced he was canceling his trip to Poland this weekend, in order to monitor the developments of Hurricane Dorian, which is expected to hit Florida early next week.
Trump said he is sending Pence in his place to represent the U.S. at a World War II commemoration ceremony.