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US ‘unveils’ plans for space army by 2020

Image of a satellite in space
Satellite in space

US President Donald Trump’s administration is vying to add a space force within four years amid threats posed by Russia and China, a US Department of Defence report revealed yesterday.

The report includes interim steps in creating a US Space Command with a unified combatant command by the end of 2018.

Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign sent a fundraising email yesterday asking supporters to vote on their favourite Space Force logo for future Trump campaign merchandise, offering a choice of six.

US Vice President, Mike Pence, thinks the space forces’ “time has come”.

“Previous administrations all but neglected the growing security threats emerging in space,” Pence said. “Our adversaries have transformed space into a war-fighting domain already, and the United States will not shrink from this challenge.”

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The space force will be equipped with military capability, including satellite enabling Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and sensors that assist tracking missile launches.

Even US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis now thinks it’s a good idea, after previously opposing it. “It is becoming a contested war fighting domain and we have to adapt to that reality,” Mattis said.

‘Dumb idea’

But critics, such as Democratic Senator Brian Schatz, called out the plan as a “dumb idea” while US Senator Bernie Sanders suggested on Twitter that Trump should guarantee healthcare “before we start spending billions to militarize outer space”.

Adding to the negative momentum, Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut, claimed the space force would replicate work already done by the US Air Force. “There is a threat out there, but it’s being handled by the US Air Force today. It doesn’t make sense to build a whole other level of bureaucracy,” he told MSNBC.

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If the idea is to go ahead, it would require US Congressional authorisation which would trigger close scrutiny over purpose and usage.

The US is a member of the Outer Space Treaty 1967 which bans the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in space. Activity in space can only be used for peaceful purposes according to the Treaty.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, the US’ British counterparts have developed the Zephyr S drone, which can be airborne in outer space. The Zephyr S can be operated from anywhere in the world, and fly above 70,000 feet.

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