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VP Pence Unveils Plans For New Military Branch In Outer Space


At the Pentagon today, Vice President Mike Pence laid out plans for a new branch of the military in outer space - a Space Force.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We must have American dominance in space, and so we will.


SHAPIRO: As NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports, not everyone agrees that a Space Force is the future.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Maybe you're thinking of signing up for the Space Force. and wondering, will I get my own jet pack like the one the Army was working on back in the '60s?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Now undergoing feasibility tests is a unique rocket belt, which permits the user to fly through the air.

BRUMFIEL: Dream on.

JOAN JOHNSON-FREESE: Nope. You're going to fly a desk. There's a computer sitting on a desk, and you stare at the screen.

BRUMFIEL: That's Joan Johnson-Freese, a space security expert at the Naval War College. The U.S. military is big in space, but it's all unmanned satellites.

JOHNSON-FREESE: Weather, Command, Control and Communication, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance.

BRUMFIEL: President Trump suggested moving all that into a new sixth branch of the military back in June. In his speech today, Pence said part of the reason is that space is becoming a battleground.


PENCE: Russia's been designing an airborne laser to disrupt our space-based system, and it claims to be developing missiles that can be launched from an aircraft mid-flight to destroy American satellites.

BRUMFIEL: China has also tested anti-satellite weapons. Brian Weeden is a former Air Force officer who now works on space policy for the Secure World Foundation. He said over Skype that other countries do want to hurt us in space.

BRIAN WEEDEN: I do agree with the administration that there are increasing potential threats.

BRUMFIEL: And Weeden says having the Air Force in charge of space, which is the way it works now, isn't perfect. The Air Force, after all, is run by pilots, not astronauts. Still...

WEEDEN: I don't quite think the Space Force is the answer.

BRUMFIEL: He says the creation of a new military branch will just make more bureaucracy. Some in the Pentagon agree. And the Space Force isn't a done deal. As a first step, Pence today announced a Space Command that oversees satellites across the military. A full Space Force will require a vote in Congress. And there are skeptics on Capitol Hill. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News, Washington.


Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.
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