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US Space Force to debut by 2020, Pence announces at Pentagon

The vice president and Department of Defense are asking Congress to create a new military branch for the first time in 70 years.

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Military spacecraft like the Air Force's X-37B space plane could be transferred to the proposed Space Force.

Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

What started as a joke has become a very serious plan for a sixth branch of the US military that's already taking shape.

"The time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces," Vice President Mike Pence said in a speech at the Pentagon on Thursday morning. "The time has come to establish the United States Space Force."  

Pence said the Department of Defense is releasing a new report to Congress laying out its plan for the creation of a new federal Department of the Space Force by 2020. The department would be headed by a new Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space. 

Pence built a case for the necessity of a Space Force, citing military advances in space by adversaries such as Russia and China. 

He mentioned the controversial 2007 launch of a Chinese missile into space to destroy one of its own satellites, seen by many as a display of military capability. (The explosion also created nearly 3,000 pieces of space debris that has made orbit a much more dangerous and difficult place to operate.)

"Our adversaries have transformed space into a war-fighting domain already," Pence said. "Peace only comes through strength, and in the realm of outer space, the United States Space Force will be that strength in the years ahead."

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President Donald Trump first launched the idea of a Space Force in March during a speech to military service members in San Diego. In his own telling, Trump said the idea for a new branch of the military initially "was not really serious."

But over the past five months it's become more real, with Defense Department officials taking steps to create new offices and functions with a focus on space. Officially creating a new branch of the military with its own finances and facilities will require an act of Congress. 

The last time a new military branch was added was in 1947 with the creation of the Air Force.

Pence noted the new service "will not be built from scratch." 

A Space Force is likely to draw on the resources of the Air Force in particular, and some critics have contended it will weaken existing branches

Pence said the president's next budget proposal will include funding for the Space Force, and he specifically called on Congress to invest $8 billion in space security systems over the next five years.

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