On June 18, President Trump announced that he was directing the Pentagon to develop a new branch of the US military, a “Space Force” that would give the US “dominance” in that realm. It would be, he said—and here he used a classic phrase from the Jim Crow era of racial segregation—“separate but equal” to the US Air Force. Much of the rest of his announcement sounded like it came directly out of a Star Trek episode. (“My administration is reclaiming America’s heritage as the world’s greatest space-faring nation. The essence of the American character is to explore new horizons and to tame new frontiers…”) And like Jean-Luc Picard captaining the USS Enterprise, he promptly (if redundantly) ordered the “Department of Defense and Pentagon” to make it so.
The president’s sudden enthusiasm seemed to come out of the blue. Even advocates of the Space Force concept were surprised. His Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and advised by a flock of space and defense industry executives, was only informed of Trump’s decision to proceed with what he called “the sixth armed service” shortly before the announcement was made.
Nor was it greeted with universal enthusiasm in either Washington or the US military, to put it mildly. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who had written a letter to Congress in July 2017 opposing an earlier, less ambitious version of the plan, had little choice but to go along with the new scheme (though his reluctance was obvious). However, its reception among key Republicans was, at best, decidedly mixed. A number of them were skeptical,like Texas Senator John Cornyn who said, “I have not yet heard a compelling case why we need a separate force.”
On the cultural front, the Space Force was roundly ridiculed on late-night TV. And even Fox News gave air time to critics like former astronaut Scott Kelly, who called the move “political” and indicated that “adding another layer of government bureaucracy [to the military]…is probably not a good use of our taxpayer dollars.” David Cloud and Noah Bierman of the Los Angeles Times summed up the president’s decision-making process as a prime example of “the chaotic way Trump sometimes makes key decisions, often by bypassing the traditional bureaucracy to tout ideas that work well as applause lines but aren’t fully thought out.”