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Sci-Tech

Trump's Space Force is coming, but not as originally planned

The president's dream of creating a military branch isn't happening yet, but it is moving forward under an existing wing of the armed forces.

spaceforce

The push for a Space Force has spawned a Netflix comedy.

Netflix video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

President Donald Trump isn't giving up on his vision of creating a new Space Force within the US military, even if it has to start out small.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution Tuesday morning, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein confirmed reports that Trump will sign Space Policy Directive 4.

"That will establish the Space Force... within the Department of the Air Force," Goldfein said.

Initially, the White House had sought to create a Space Force as a brand new branch of the military, equal in standing to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. But the proposal ran into opposition from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, which must approve the creation of a new military branch.

Now playing: Watch this: The US is getting a Space Force
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With Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives, the White House appears to be pursuing a "plan B" that sets up a sort of miniature Space Force under the Air Force. Notably, the new entity maintains the Space Force name, and the directive that's awaiting the president's signature also keeps the goal of converting it into a full-fledged military branch at some point in the future. 

"I think the fact that we're having a national debate on space is really healthy," Goldfein said. "We're the best in the world in space and our adversaries know it. They've been studying us and they've been investing in ways to take away that capability in crisis or conflict... We as a nation cannot let that happen."

Vice President Mike Pence has argued that China and Russia are already treating space as a "warfighting domain." 

Indeed, much of the infrastructure for our highly digitized daily lives relies on satellites in orbit that are arguably vulnerable to attack. There have even been a few shots fired across the bow, like when China demonstrated its capability by shooting down one of its own satellites in 2007, creating dangerous space debris in the process. 

While few argue with the potential threat, there's plenty of disagreement about the need for restructuring the military when thousands of troops across the existing branches already keep an eye on space and even work in orbit. NASA astronaut Anne McClain, a lieutenant colonel in the US Army, is living on the International Space Station right now, albeit in a civilian role. 

Getting a Space Force off the ground and operational within the Air Force will still require support from Congress, which will have to approve funds for it in the fiscal year 2020 budget. 

The president signed the new directive at 11 a.m. PT/2 p.m. ET Tuesday.

First published Feb. 19 at 10:02 a.m. PT. 
Update, 1:10 p.m.: Reflects the fact that President Trump signed the directive.