Pentagon to talk Space Force plans, uniforms with Trump

Officials expected to brief president on plans for starting up newly authorized military service branch

The Air Force chief of staff sits in the foreground as members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The Air Force chief of staff sits in the foreground as members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 15, 2020 at 8:53am

Defense Department brass are expected Wednesday afternoon to brief President Donald Trump on their plans for standing up a new military branch called the Space Force, and a Pentagon official said they may even present several logo options for the new armed service.

The White House meeting is expected to include Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett and Air Force Gen. Jay Raymond, who is on his second day of the job as the first-ever chief of space operations, the top officer in the sixth U.S. military service.

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Trump’s public schedule notes a meeting with Esper at 2:15 p.m. that is closed to the press.

Besides being prepared to show Trump the logo ideas, the military leaders will be ready to talk about the subject of uniforms and to describe proposed rank structures and organizational charts, according to the Pentagon official.

Esper and Barrett met with Vice President Mike Pence last week on some of the same topics, the official said.

Pence swore in Raymond as the first chief of space operations at an Eisenhower Executive Office Building ceremony on Tuesday. “I know the next year is going to be a busy year, and we are going to see literally thousands of Air Force personnel move into the Space Force,” Pence said at the ceremony.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Edward Thomas, spokesman for the Air and Space Forces, would not confirm the meeting or who was attending it when asked by CQ Roll Call.

But Thomas said the two services are “moving out quickly on a host of issues from organizational structures to branding the new service — how we present it to the American people and the members of the military.”

The first objective, he said, is to advance the space mission.

“We have about 25,000 members assigned to the Space Force carrying out space operations every day, from missile warning to GPS,” Thomas said. “Ensuring our forces are ready is job one.”

New frontier

The Space Force became the sixth military service on Dec. 20, when Trump signed the fiscal 2020 defense authorization law, known as the NDAA.

The new service’s function is to train and equip units that can deter adversaries and defend U.S. interests in space. The law also created assistant secretary positions with space responsibilities in the Air Force and Defense secretariats.

Proponents of the Space Force say it was needed to provide bureaucratic clout to advance a mission that is increasingly central to deterrence and victory in war. U.S. satellites are increasingly at risk from weapons developed by China and Russia.

To critics, though, the Space Force is not going to do more than could be done by the Air Force, except that more money will be spent to justify a new organization.

Trump has taken a personal interest in the Space Force, and his reelection campaign has touted it. Lawmakers had been discussing the prospect of a Space Force before Trump took office, but the president has claimed to have thought of the idea. Nonetheless, his advocacy for it is widely seen as key to its enactment.

Getting started

The White House meeting Wednesday comes as Congress awaits in the weeks ahead an NDAA-mandated report on how the force will be organized. Congressional staff have already been keeping tabs on its progress, even though the service is not yet one month old.

The meeting also comes as speculation mounts about the possible location of headquarters for yet another space organization: a newly minted U.S. Space Command, which is a combatant command — an organization with a broad mission based on geography or function, like Central Command or Transportation Command.

The command revives an organization that existed from 1985 to 2002, when its functions were moved to the U.S. Strategic Command, which handles U.S. nuclear weapons. The command, launched in August, is currently housed at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.

It is not clear when the new headquarters announcement will come, but it could affect the 2020 elections if it is decided this year. Sites in Colorado as well as Florida, Alabama and perhaps elsewhere are said to be under consideration.

Meanwhile, the administration is preparing to send Congress a legislative proposal for fiscal 2021 that would create National Guard and Reserve units for the Space Force and would establish the position of vice chief of space operations, the Pentagon official said.

The proposal would also recommend bringing the Space Development Agency, an acquisition organization that is now a part of the Office of Secretary of Defense, under the new military branch.

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