At a White House ceremony last month, the U.S. Space Command officially came into existence, the latest of military's 11 unified commands that will act as a precursor to the separate branch known as the Space Force.
However, News 6 partner Florida Today reports the formal transition raises many questions – more than it answers, at least – about the future military branch pushed for by the White House. Timing, existing space command structure, hardware divisions, key decision-making personnel, and countless more are among the factors that will need to be worked out moving forward. And Congress itself still has to approve and fund the formation of this new military branch, something that Vice President Mike Pence will happen "soon."
The Air Force already has its own space command, but the Aug. 29 "standup ceremony" in Washington built on the existing hierarchy and created the U.S. Space Command, a unified structure that will draw from at least two military branches. Air Force Gen. John Raymond now heads both Air Force and U.S. space commands.
The move is part of the Trump administration's plan to create an entirely separate branch of the military known as the Space Force. The administration and military, especially the Air Force, have for years claimed space is a "war-fighting domain" due to threats from countries like China, which has demonstrated anti-satellite weapons capabilities. And even earlier this year, India successfully took down one of its own satellites about 200 miles above Earth's surface.
The move reminds many of 72 years ago when the last time a new branch – the Air Force – fought for its establishment. Even in the aftermath of World War II, when air power first became a major part of warfare, it wasn't a clear-cut decision.
"There was a lot of resistance to it," said Roger Launius, NASA former chief historian now with Launius Historical Services. "It was only the result of World War II and the strategic bombing campaign that gave a sizable contingent of people who made these decisions enough comfort that they thought a separate service was warranted."
But Launius says the establishment of the Space Force doesn't necessarily address a need, especially since the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 limits the use of weapons in space. And with only advanced nations being able to deploy space-based weapons, any conflict in space would mean dire consequences for everyone.
"If there was a reason to do this, it was in 2008," Launius said. "All we're talking about is re-arranging the deck furniture. We're not fundamentally altering the nature of activity. So I don't get the point."
But others, like astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, have come out in support of the Space Force branch due to the differences between operating within the confines of the atmosphere versus operating in space.
"No one today would question whether (the Air Force) was a good idea," Tyson said during a 2018 interview with Joe Rogan. "Today, you should know that operations in space in the vacuum of the universe is a different regime you're operating in from moving through the air. Your hardware looks different, your strategies are different, your command and control is different."
"The size of our assets – as long as that continues to grow, what else would a military do beyond protecting borders? They protect assets," Tyson said about space-based infrastructure like satellites. "And our space assets day-by-day are growing by leaps and bounds."
But the U.S. Space Command will need its own headquarters, a controversial topic for Florida after the Air Force earlier this year said the state was out of the running. The six locations being considered are:
- Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado
- Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado
- Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado
- Redstone Arsenal (U.S. Army), Alabama
- Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado
- Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Colorado has long been considered a frontrunner for the command as the Air Force's Space Command is already based there, as well as a series of other bases, organizations and companies.
The 45th Space Wing, based at Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, is a unit of the old and new command. So far, the wing has said there will be no local impacts from the transition to U.S. Space Command.