Will The 'Space Force' Be The U.S.'s Sixth Military Branch?

Will The 'Space Force' Be The U.S.'s Sixth Military Branch?

Earlier this week President Trump announced he was moving to create a sixth branch of the U.S. military.

"I am hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces," Trump said during a meeting of the National Space Council. "Our destiny beyond the Earth is not only a matter of national identity but a matter of national security," Trump added.

Trump had met with the Space Council to sign a policy directive on traffic management in space. It was during this meeting that the president advocated for a Space Force as an independent but equal military branch. Currently, all outer space activities related to the military are under the auspices of the Air Force’s Space Command.  

This is not the first time the military’s space activities have been considered for expansion. Back in July 2017, the House of Representatives passed bill H.R.2810 to amend the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In the end, however, the naysayers in Congress won the day, pointing out creating a new military branch would be premature and could result in more bureaucracy that would only hinder development in the area. By November it was clear that a Space Corps would not be on the agenda of the next defense budget.

Now that Space Force looks like an actual possibility, the question is what such a deployment would look like.

There are some serious constraints on weaponizing space platforms that go back to the days of the Cold War, a time when world leaders were looking to mitigate the potential destruction of an all-out war between the West and the Soviet bloc.   

The Outer Space Treaty (OST) was an agreement signed in 1967 by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. The treaty prohibited signatories from placing weapons of mass destruction in space. Furthermore, the pact says that no area in space can be claimed as a single country's territory. More than 100 countries have since committed to the terms of the OST.

This poses a slew of potential problems if the U.S. were to deploy weapons in space. What would be the status of platforms deployed in any permanent location? Would this be akin to “claiming” territory? And what of the issue of the destructive force space weapons deliver? It should be no surprise that the experimental space weapons systems already being toyed with are not exactly genteel. Consider the infamous Rods from God design that would deliver tungsten rods dropped from 1,000 kilometers above Earth’s surface. The destruction wreaked by this weapon would be similar to a nuclear explosion, and could penetrate hundreds of feet into the ground.

Additionally, the creation of a Space Force could trigger a space arms race with other nations, something that could easily exacerbate the efforts of nations like Russia and China that have also taken an interest in the militarization of space in recent years.