Vice President Mike Pence announced on Thursday a plan to make changes to how the Department of Defense runs its space operations, with the eventual goal of creating a Space Force as the sixth branch of the military.

"Now, the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of the Armed Forces of the United States – to prepare for the next battlefield where America's best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people and our nation," Pence said. "The time has come to establish the United States Space Force."

To establish the sixth branch, the White House would need the approval of Congress. Several steps must be taken to establish the space-centered military branch.

The plan

According to the Washington Post, the first of these steps is to establish a U.S. Space Command. The command would be headed by a four-star general who would "be tasked with defending space," said the Post.

Currently, there is a 30,000-person, three-star space command that's under the jurisdiction of the Air Force, said ABC News.

Other plans Pence detailed in his speech include:

  • Creating assistant secretary of space defense, who would report to the secretary of defense
  • Starting to reallocate the military's space experts and scientists to a Space Development Agency and task them with developing new technology and acquiring resources for the new branch
  • Implementing a Space Operations Force

The Space Operations Force will "train, promote, and retain personnel to include engineers, scientists, intelligence experts, operators, strategists, and others," reported ABC. "The idea would be similar to how special operations forces from across the military services are distributed to various commands."

What people are saying

While the idea of a Space Force is supported by Trump, Pence, and Defense Secretary James Mattis, many in space-related fields have criticized the notion.

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly called the sixth branch "a dumb idea" when Trump commanded its creation in June.

In an interview with CNN, renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson stated he would support a Space Force if it were deemed necessary by military leadership. He explained it makes sense to want to protect the nation's assets in space, but also said he wasn't sure a sixth branch was needed.

"The question is: does the Air Force think that they can't handle it under the current administrative, bureaucratic structures? And if not, then maybe it's a good idea," he said.

The history

Historically, the United Nations has said the final frontier is no place for warfare. The United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967 banned nations from using the moon and other celestial bodies for non-peaceful purposes, including use for military bases, maneuvers and testing. The treaty also banned weapons of mass destruction from being installed on celestial bodies or being launched into orbit.

While the Space Force plans don't include these banned practices, this treaty has led to questions on the legality of the proposed branch and its potential to breach the agreement.

This is also not the first time a politician has proposed a boost in military space programs. Last year, officials shot down a proposal to create a "Space Corps." The proposed corps would have been under Air Force's jurisdiction.

Trump's idea of a Space Force was first brought before Congress in 2017, ABC reported. At the time, Mattis was against the idea of a sixth branch. He has since announced his support.

Should it be approved, the Space Force would mark the first time a branch has been added to the military since 1947, when the Air Force was created following World War II.