It’s not quite the Space Force that Donald Trump really wants, but he just established the U.S. Space Command (aka SpaceCom) in another small step toward getting the U.S. ready for battles in space.
At a ceremony in the Rose Garden Thursday afternoon, President Trump announced the newly revamped program, touting its goals of protecting valuable U.S. satellites and preparing the country for war on the final frontier.
“It’s a big deal,” Trump said. “As the newest combatant command, SpaceCom will defend America’s vital interests in space, the next war-fighting domain.”
“And I think that’s pretty obvious to everybody. It’s all about space,” he added.
SpaceCom will serve as a command center for all U.S. military operations in space — not to be confused with the Space Force that Trump wants, which would be a sixth branch of the military. In order to establish that, he needs congressional approval.
Ever since he was on the campaign trail, Trump’s been pushing the idea of dedicating military resources to figuring out how to fight space battles. The Space Force may have started out as a campaign applause line, but some members of Congress and military leaders have since come around and now support the idea.
But that doesn’t mean that Trump skimped on the theatrics of the SpaceCom announcement. The command’s flag was proudly unfurled at the end of the ceremony, and the banner image for SpaceCom’s fresh Twitter account looks more like a poster for a big-budget movie release than something associated with a military command center. In big block letters, it reads “COMING THIS THURSDAY, AUGUST 29, 2019: US SPACE COM.”
One person who wasn’t stoked about a Space Force: former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Allocating defense budget toward defending U.S. interests in space wasn’t the best idea, in his mind. But after Mattis resigned last December, Trump tapped Mark Esper for the job, who’s decidedly more enthusiastic.
“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,” Esper said at a press conference Wednesday.
Space Command isn’t new, though it hasn’t been in operation for almost two decades. It was first launched in 1985 as a division of the Air Force, a project to coordinate missile defense and surveillance during the Cold War. After the attacks of Sept. 11, the Bush administration’s priorities shifted away from space and toward counterterrorism efforts. The Space Command was merged with the unified Strategic Command in 2002, with the goal of helping with the invasion of Afghanistan.
Trump and Pence tapped Air Force Gen. John Raymond to lead the renewed Space Command, and he’s already been Senate-confirmed. For the last three years, he’s run the Air Force Space Command, the branch of the Air Force that oversees space operations.
“He’s a warrior who has integrated space capabilities to make our military even stronger and to pave the way for a new era of national defense,” Trump said of him during Thursday’s ceremony.
Cover: President Donald Trump watches as the flag of the new U.S. Space Command is presented during a ceremony for the establishment of the command in the Rose Garden of the White House, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)