By JACQUELINE FELDSCHER 2/10/2019 07:11 PM EST
Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday celebrated congressional action to create the U.S. Space Force in its annual defense policy bill, crediting President Donald Trump with a major victory in advancing American dominance in space.
“One administration after another have observed the lack of a coherent and unified command, and President Trump’s direction from early on was to establish the Space Force to bring together all those disparate interests,” Pence told POLITICO in a phone interview.
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House and Senate negotiators unveiled a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act late Monday that will establish the U.S. Space Force within the Air Force.
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While both the House and Senate proposed creating a new space service, they clashed over how best to structure it. The different approaches proved to be one of the more contentious debates in the monthslong negotiation over the bill.
The final bill, which now will be voted on by both chambers, would redesignate the Air Force Space Command as the U.S. Space Force. It would also give the Air Force secretary the authority to transfer space personnel in the military into the new service, though it would not allow for hiring new people.
Similar to how the Marine Corps is a separate branch under the authority of the secretary of the Navy, the legislation would also create a chief of space operations who would sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as an assistant secretary for the Air Force for space acquisition and integration.
In June 2018, Trump called for a stand-alone branch on par with the Army and Navy, but Pence said Congress’ plan nonetheless follows the president’s intent: to prioritize space within the Pentagon and unite all the different space missions spread across the military.
“Prior to the president’s vision for establishing a Space Force, we basically had space assets in 60 different departments,” Pence said.
He later added: “The space policy directive [Trump] signed called for the establishment of a sixth branch of the armed forces. What Congress has agreed to would do exactly that.”
Still, Pence said it’s possible the Space Force could grow into a stand-alone department on par with the Army and Navy as the military space mission grows, just as the Air Force was split off from the Army in 1947.
But the establishment of the new service is not guaranteed, despite the initial buy-in from authorizers. The compromise bill will need to pass both the House and the Senate, and then it will be up to appropriators whether to fund the new branch.
The House Appropriations Committee in May denied funding for the Space Force, instead asking the Pentagon to study alternative options.
Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.