If officials can advocate for reusable rockets to deliver cargo to troops from space ports, perhaps more firepower in space is possible, too.
Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday didn't immediately rule out positioning nuclear weapons in space sometime in the future. In a conversation with the Washington Post during its "Transformers: Space" summit, Pence was asked if the United States was looking to renegotiate the terms of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which currently bans "weapons of mass destruction," but still allows for conventional weapons in orbit.
"That treaty...doesn't ban military activity," Pence said. "It gives nations a fair amount of flexibility in operating in their security interests in outer space. At this time we don't see any need to amend the treaty, but as time goes forward, the hope that we could continue to see outer space as a domain where peace will reign will require military presence."
Post reporter Robert Costa, who interviewed Pence onstage at the forum, asked him if he thought nuclear weapons should be banned from space.
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"They are now," Pence replied.
"Should they always be banned from space?" Costa said.
"Well, look. I think what we need to do is make sure that we provide for the common defense of the people of the United States of America. And that's the president's determination here," Pence replied. "What we want to do is continue to advance the principle that peace comes through strength."
The vice president on Tuesday headlined a few events to promote plans for the Trump administration's proposed Space Force, intended to be the sixth military branch.
Following his appearance at the Post, Pence convened a meeting of the National Space Council at Fort McNair, where cabinet secretaries, members of the national space and security councils, and policy officials discussed recommendations to begin forming the Department of the Space Force.
Echoing a plan Pence unveiled at the Pentagon in August, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the Defense Department would move to:
- Establish the creation of a unified space command, known as U.S. Space Command
- Direct a legislative proposal for a Space Force for the White House to review
- Form a budget request proposal to include Space Force elements in the fiscal year 2020 budget Review various space agency authorities to understand and streamline chain-of-command
- Establishes the Space Development Agency for new satellite and technology procurement
- Strengthen relationships between the new military space branch and the intelligence community
The recommendations, approved unanimously in the meeting, will eventually be woven into Space Policy Directive-4, known as SPD-4, Space News reported.
When SPD-4 may be signed by the president was not disclosed, even though members of the Pentagon have been waiting to discuss the directive for some months, Military.com reported last week.
During the two-hour meeting, the conferees heard from Doug Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy; Mark Sirangelo, an "entrepreneur-in-residence" at the University of Colorado Boulder's aerospace engineering program and former head of Sierra Nevada Corporation's space business; and Air Force Lt. Gen. James K. McLaughlin, deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command.
All were in favor of establishing a Space Force. McLaughlin, however, stressed interoperability and warned of bureaucratic overlap.
"I think you undermine the need for a department if you try to create a combatant command with service-like authorities," McLaughlin said. "We have to be careful about these three entities not overlapping, and drawing clear lines."
According to a report from DefenseOne, the Pentagon already has some lines drawn.
Current space operations conducted by bases that belong to Air Force Space Command, the Army's 1st Space Brigade, the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and the Naval Satellite Operations Center will all be absorbed into the Space Force, according to plans.
Space Force will not initially include "the transfer of [the] strategic intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance mission of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)," the 13-page memo said, as reported by DefenseOne Monday. Whether the intelligence agency will be incorporated at a later date remains to be seen.
"It was not easy to do this," Shanahan said Tuesday. "But we are moving out."
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.