President Donald Trump ordered the creation of "Space Command" on Tuesday, a move the administration is labeling a precursor to creating a US Space Force.
"I direct the establishment, consistent with United States law, of United States Space Command as a functional Unified Combatant Command," Trump said in an executive memorandum to Secretary of Defense James Mattis. "I also direct the Secretary of Defense to recommend officers for my nomination and Senate confirmation as Commander and Deputy Commander of the new United States Space Command."
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Two defense officials told CNN that the Pentagon is nearing completion of a draft proposal for a Space Force that would sit under the Air Force, but have many of the trappings of a separate service, resembling the Marine Corps' relationship to the Department of the Navy.
The new command is the 11th combatant command and will have control of military space operations.
Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at Cape Canaveral Tuesday, said the new space command "won't end there."
A sixth branch
Pence said "in the days ahead, President Trump will also sign a new space policy directive that will lay out our plans and our timeline to create the new sixth branch of the armed forces, the US Space Force."
"We're working as we speak with leaders in both parties in Congress to stand up the United States Space Force before the end of 2020," Pence said. The vice president said the military will use the foundation provided by the Air Force, which has been "a magnificent steward of our military space capabilities" and build on that with "space professionals from every branch."
"While we're taking these actions to ensure our nation's security, and our future, we'll be following the very best traditions of the past," Pence said.
The new Space Command will be only the 11th combined combatant command, joining the ranks of Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, and Special Operations Command, which oversees elite troops known as Special Operations Forces.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva are expected to brief key members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees and Defense appropriations subcommittees, according to a defense official familiar with the announcement.
The White House announcement said Mattis will provide Trump with nominations for the commander and deputy commander of Space Command and that the new command "will strengthen" space operations while also helping to "streamline command and control of time-sensitive operations" and "consolidate space operations under a single authority."
A Pentagon report released in August said the new command will "improve and evolve space warfighting," focusing on doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures, making it akin to Special Operations Command, which provides a similar function for US Special Operations Forces, such as US Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces.
"This new command structure for the physical domain of space, led by a four-star flag officer, will establish unified command and control for our Space Force operations, ensure integration across the military, and develop the space warfighting doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures of the future," Pence said during a visit to the Pentagon in August.
Officials told CNN that Mattis will send a letter to House and Senate Armed Services Committee asking them to repeal a provision in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act which establishes Space Command as a sub-unified command underneath Strategic Command. Trump's direction will skip this step, elevating it to the same level as Strategic Command.