Lawmakers in the House of Representatives and the Senate reached a deal on Monday on a defense-policy bill for the fiscal year 2019, and the legislation makes no mention of a “space force.” The deal—which will face votes in the House and Senate this summer before reaching Trump’s desk—directs the secretary of defense’s office to “develop a space warfighting policy,” but it doesn’t recommend officials explore the possibility of the military branch that Trump spoke of so enthusiastically last month.
The absence of a space force in the defense bill means that Congress has ignored Trump on this wish. This is not uncommon: Congressional lawmakers have routinely ignored the president on various proposals since he took office. Unless congressional Republicans were already proposing the same thing, they have generally shrugged off Trump’s requests, especially his budget plans, and moved on.
It could be that it was simply too late to include support for a space force in this bill. A White House official pointed out that the administration submitted most legislative proposals for the defense bills in early spring, weeks before Trump’s declaration. On top of that, a day after Trump made a declaration for a sixth military branch, the House and Senate moved their negotiations into a bicameral conference committee, the final phase before a deal is reached, and where significant changes to a bill are unlikely.
But given the military community’s reaction to Trump’s demand, the omission feels like a message: The idea isn’t ready for prime time.
How Exactly Do You Establish a Space Force?
The Pentagon opposes the creation of a space force, and it did so long before Trump ever floated the idea to the public. In June of last year, defense officials shot down a proposal in the House for a “space corps,” a new service that would be housed in the Air Force and oversee all space-related military operations. “The Pentagon is complicated enough,” Heather Wilson, the Air Force secretary, told reporters at the time. “This will make it more complex, add more boxes to the organization chart, and cost more money. If I had more money, I would put it into lethality, not bureaucracy.”
The House measure to create a space corps eventually failed, and the idea appeared to be fading from view. And then came Trump. The president first revived the idea in March, during a visit to a Marine Corps base. The Pentagon, unsurprisingly, went silent. To disapprove of the idea as they did last year would mean publicly rebuking their president’s wishes. Officials similarly stayed mum after Trump doubled down on the idea last month. Their statements were cautious and vague.
“We understand the president’s guidance,” said the Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White in June. “Our policy board will begin working on this issue, which has implications for intelligence operations for the Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy. Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.”