On August 9th, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had the dubious distinction of being the one to announce the creation of the new sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces, the Space Force, which he said would debut in 2020.
“The time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, 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 nation. The time has come to establish the US Space Force,” he said in a speech from the Pentagon.
Pence also asked for an addition $8 billion to establish the sixth branch. (This on top of the additional $100 billion already granted to the U.S. military in 2018.)
The administration defended against naysayers by stating that the Space Force was needed to defend against Russia and China whom he claims “have been conducting highly sophisticated on-orbit activities that could enable them to maneuver their satellites into close proximity of ours, posing unprecedented new dangers to our space systems.”
No mention was made of the October 1967 Outer Space Treaty, of which China, Russia, and the United States are signatories.
Formally the “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.” The treaty prohibits states from placing weapons of mass destruction in Earth orbit, installing them on the Moon or any other celestial body, or otherwise stationing them in outer space. It exclusively limits the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes and expressly prohibits their use for testing weapons of any kind, conducting military manoeuvres, or establishing military bases, installations, and fortifications.
However, the Treaty does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in orbit. Which China did in 2007 by destroying one of its own weather satellites with a ‘Kinetic Kill Vehicle’ fired with a multistage solid-fuel missile. China stated that it formally notified the U.S., Japan and other countries about the test in advance.
China was not the first nation to work on and deploy anti-satellite weaponry. That distinction belongs to the United States with development beginning in the 1950’s. The U.S. conducted a successful anti-satellite missile test in 1985 using an ASM-135 ASAT to destroy the P78-1 ‘Solwind’ satellite.
Senator Bernie Sanders responded to the announcement succinctly and truthfully over twitter, “Maybe, just maybe, we should make sure our people are not dying because they lack health insurance before we start spending billions to militarize outer space.”