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'Space Force' Idea Isn't Dead, Intel Chief Says

The U.S. Air Force successfully launched the ninth Boeing-built Wideband Global SATCOM satellite aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle from Space Launch Complex 37B, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, March 17, 2017. (Courtesy photo/ United Launch Alliance)
The U.S. Air Force successfully launched the ninth Boeing-built Wideband Global SATCOM satellite aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle from Space Launch Complex 37B, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, March 17, 2017. (Courtesy photo/ United Launch Alliance)

The U.S. is still mulling creation of a "Space Force" as a new branch of the military to counter the growing threat of Russian and Chinese anti-satellite weapons, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Wednesday.

"I think it's still under discussion" at the highest levels of government, Coats said of the Space Force proposal pushed by President Donald Trump.

"There are a lot of efforts out there by more than one country relative to gaining space capabilities," Coats said at a breakfast with defense reporters. "That includes anti-satellite capabilities. We track that very, very carefully. We are fully aware of it.

"The question is: To what level does it rise that it would result in a new command? Whether we add a new command, that decision hasn't been made," he said.

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The decision would have to be made by the Defense Department and be "pushed up to the president," Coats said.

Last year, the House voted to create a "Space Corps" in its version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, but the proposal failed to pass in the Senate.

At a House Armed Services Committee hearing last month, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson was non-committal on forming a separate Space Force while noting interest in the idea from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

The new National Defense Strategy recognizes space as a warfighting domain, Wilson said.

"I don't remember any president ever openly saying that," she said.

Wilson sidestepped on whether she would support a Space Force while noting that Trump has recreated the National Space Council under Pence's leadership.

She also hailed additional funding in the recently passed budget that "accelerates our ability to deter and defend and protect our ability to operate and to win in space."

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, has repeatedly warned in recent months of advances by Russia and China in developing anti-satellite weapons, while Coats' office highlighted the threat in February in the DNI's 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

"Russia and China aim to have non-destructive and destructive counter-space weapons available for use during a potential future conflict," the DNI's report said.

"We assess that, if a future conflict were to occur involving Russia or China, either country would justify attacks against U.S. and allied satellites as necessary to offset any perceived U.S. military advantage derived from military, civil or commercial space systems," the report said.

At the session with defense reporters, Coats said, "We have to up our game if we're going to stay competitive. We have to become much more agile, more innovative, more creative."

In an address to Marines at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, last month, Trump said the new National Defense Strategy recognizes space as a warfighting domain "just like the land, air and sea. We may even have a Space Force -- you have the Air Force, you have a Space Force."

"We're doing a tremendous amount of work in space. I said, 'Maybe we need a new force -- we'll call it a Space Force,' " he said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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