JOINT BASE ANDREWS – President Trump signed into law Dec. 20 the sprawling, $738 billion defense bill, making history by creating the Space Force as a stand-alone, sixth branch of the U.S. military and guaranteeing for the first time 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers.
“Today [also] marks another landmark achievement as we officially inaugurate the newest branch of the military [United States Space Force], this is a very big and important moment,” said President Donald J. Trump.
The Space Force and parental leave were two of the most high-profile elements of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a law running 1,976 pages that serves as comprehensive, annual blueprint for military spending and policy priorities and operating standards. The law touches almost every corner of the military and beyond since it is one of the rare pieces of legislation that regularly passes Congress and is signed into law.
In addition to Space Force and paid parental leave, the law calls for a 3.1 percent pay raise for active-duty personnel; it prohibits Turkey from participating in the F-35 program as long as it continues to possess a Russian-made missile system. It prescribes active-duty strength for all the services while also carrying provisions to improve military housing and health care, purchasing 60 F-35s for the Air Force and thousands of other directives and recommendations.
Trump mentioned a number of the law’s signature items in a 20-minute address in a hangar at Andrews before signing the legislation into law. He was surrounded by hundreds of military personnel, members of Congress and senior leaders from the Pentagon including the Joint Chiefs as well as Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett and Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. Air Force Gen. Jay Raymond, who was named the first Chief of Space Operations, was also present.
Trump, who first mentioned the Space Force idea in March 2018 and for whom bringing it to reality was a personal priority, offered a rationale for the first new branch of the military since 1947.
“There are grave threats to our national security,” said Trump. “American superiority in space is absolutely vital. The Space Force will help us deter aggression and control the ultimate high ground.”
He was echoed by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper who said, “We are at the dawn of a new era for our Nation’s Armed Forces. The establishment of the U.S. Space Force is an historic event and a strategic imperative for our Nation. Space has become so important to our way of life, our economy and our national security that we must be prepared as a Nation to protect it from hostile actions,” said Secretary of Defense, Mark T. Esper. “Our Military Services have created the world’s best space capabilities. Now is the time for the U.S. Space Force to lead our Nation in preparing for emerging threats in an evolving space environment. This new service will help ensure we are postured to deter aggression, defend our national interests and outpace potential adversaries.”
For many in the Air Force-heavy crowd at Andrews, the Space Force and the historic moment were particularly meaningful.
Barrett, for example, has made creating Space Force her highest priority since becoming Air Force secretary in October.
Now is the time for a separate service totally focused on organizing, training and equipping for space, she said. While once a wide open “domain” reserved only for the United States and Russia, space today has become far more congested and crowded with other nations and commercial interests actively operating in space. At the same time space has also become a crucial factor in protecting national security and supporting activities of everyday life ranging from cell phone service, GPS, banking and the ability to easily and instantly transmit data anywhere in the world.
As such, the United States says space must be protected and preserved and that the United States’ superiority in space maintained. “The U.S. Space Force will help the DoD meet the challenges of the future security environment,” a Department of Defense statement says. “Space is integral to national security and our way of life, and this service will posture us to compete, deter, and win in an era of great power competition.”
By creating a new, separate service with a dedicated purpose, the United States will maintain space superiority, even as space becomes more crowded and contested. The new defense law also directs that the Space Force “shall provide the freedom of operation in, from, and to space, while providing prompt and sustained space operations.”