Donald Trump launched a new Pentagon command dedicated to space warfare on Thursday, with US military officials wary of ceding an advantage to China and Russia in the newest military frontier.
“This is a landmark day, one that recognises the centrality of space to America’s security and defense,” Mr Trump said in a White House ceremony. “SpaceCom will ensure that America’s dominance in space is never threatened.”
The new command will elevate space to a focused theatre of combat – equal in importance to the US Central Command that governs the Middle East and Pacific Command, which manages defenses in the Western Pacific and Asia.
While the US Air Force already has a dedicated space warfare operation, SpaceCom will heighten its importance and foster specialized systems and training for space showdowns.
“The dangers to our country constantly evolve and so must we,” Mr Trump said. “Our adversaries are weaponizing earth’s orbits with new technology targeting… both battlefield operations and our way of life at home.”
Air Force General John Raymond, who will lead the new command, said ahead of the ceremony in the Rose Garden that US rivals China and Russia are already pouring huge resources into space operations.
The challenges range from adversaries jamming communications and GPS satellites to, as China demonstrated in 2007, ground-launched missiles used to physically destroy satellites.
“We are at a strategic inflection point where there is nothing that we do as a joint coalition force that isn’t enabled by space,” Mr Raymond told reporters at the Pentagon.
“I’m convinced that space is a war-fighting domain. I’m convinced that our way of life and our way of war depend on space capabilities,” he said.
The Space Command is the Pentagon’s 11th full command and second launched in two years.
Last year, the Pentagon elevated its cyber warfare operations to CyberCom, recognizing that online attacks and defense constituted a unique theater of combat.
Mr Trump though has a much more ambitious vision for space warfare.
In June 2018, he ordered the Department of Defense to create a much larger Space Force, a dedicated branch of the military equal to the existing forces, the US Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.
That much more ambitious and expensive move would require Congress’s approval. Some in the Pentagon, including the former defense secretary James Mattis, have opposed the idea as unnecessary and creating new bureaucracy.
Steve Kitay, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, said a proposal could be added to the Defense Department’s budget in the coming year, calling it a “strategic imperative.”
In China and Russia, he said, “there is a perception that space represents an [American] Achilles heel and that this is an asymmetric advantage for them to then take on the United States’ power.”