With Speech at Miramar, Trump Lands in Center of 'Space Force' Debate

President Trump arrives speaks to service members at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Trump arrives speaks to service members at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

During a visit to troops at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, on Tuesday, President Donald Trump revealed an idea he had recently: a "space force," or separate military service for space.

What the crowd who laughed at the proposal might not realize, though, is that the concept behind Trump's new idea has been hotly debated for years on Capitol Hill and inside the Pentagon.

Trump visited Miramar during his first trip to California as president. During a 30-minute speech in a hangar on the air station, he spoke of recent successes for the United States in the realm of space.

"You're seeing the rockets going up left and right; you haven't seen that for a long time," Trump said, then added a jab at former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. "Very soon we're going to Mars. We wouldn't be going to Mars if my opponent won, that I can tell you."

He described the idea of a military branch for space as something that recently occurred to him.

"You know, I was saying the other day because we're doing a tremendous amount of work in space, maybe we need a new force. We'll call it the space force," Trump said. "And I was not really serious, and then I thought, 'Maybe that's a great idea. Maybe we'll have to do that.' "

It's not clear whether Trump knows that the Air Force and Congress have been locked in conflict over just such an idea for a long time.

An early version of the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act would have required the service to stand up a U.S. Space Corps, an action the Air Force maintained is too costly and demanding of resources.

Meanwhile, though, the service took more modest steps to emphasize the importance of space as a warfighting domain, including in June 2017 creating a senior military role to oversee space missions.

Ultimately, the Space Corps proposal did not make it into the final version of the defense budget bill.

But that doesn't mean key lawmakers have given up on the idea.

Earlier this month, Reps. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and Mike Rogers, R-Ala., told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the Pentagon might be able to create a Space Corps within three years.

Rogers said the actions of competitors including China and Russia are making such a move increasingly important.

"The situation we are in as a nation, the vulnerabilities we have to China and Russia, I'd like for the American public to know more, [but] I can't because I don't want to go to jail for leaking classified info. But we're in a really bad situation," Rogers said at the time.

Despite Trump's bullishness on space in his speech, he sounded a note of warning on the progress needed to be made in the domain.

"From the very beginning, many of our astronauts have been soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines," he said. "We're going to lead the way in space. We're way, way behind."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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