WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump launched a new Pentagon command dedicated to warfare in space on Thursday (Aug 29), as American armed forces chiefs see China and Russia pressing hard to erode the US advantage in the newest military frontier.
"This is a landmark day, one that recognises the centrality of space to America's security and defence," Trump said in a White House ceremony.
"SpaceCom will ensure that America's dominance in space is never threatened."
The new command will elevate space - largely the satellites and high-altitude aircraft essential to modern-day warfare - to a focused theatre of combat, the equal of the US Central Command governing the Middle East and the Pacific Command, which manages defences in the Western Pacific and Asia.
While the US Air Force already has a dedicated space warfare operation, SpaceCom will heighten its importance and foster specialised systems and training for space showdowns.
"The dangers to our country constantly evolve and so must we," said Trump.
"Our adversaries are weaponising earth's orbits with new technology targeting American satellites that are critical to both battlefield operations and our way of life at home."
"Our freedom to operate in space is also essential to detecting and destroying any missile launched against the United States," he added.
Air Force General John Raymond, who will lead the new command, said ahead of the White House ceremony that US rivals China and Russia are already pouring huge resources into space operations, where they believe they can, in a conflict, diminish US advantages.
The challenges range from adversaries jamming communications and GPS satellites to, as China demonstrated in 2007, ground-launched missiles used to physically destroy satellites.
AFTER SPACECOM, US SPACE FORCE
"We are at a strategic inflection point where there is nothing that we do as a joint coalition force that isn't enabled by space," Raymond told reporters at the Pentagon.
"I'm convinced that space is a war-fighting domain. I'm convinced that our way of life and our way of war depend on space capabilities," he said.
The Space Command is the Pentagon's 11th full command and second launched in two years.
Last year the Pentagon elevated its cyber warfare operations to CyberCom, recognizing that online attacks and defence constituted a unique theater of combat.
Trump though has a much more ambitious vision for space warfare.
In June 2018 he ordered the Department of Defence to create a much larger Space Force, a dedicated branch of the military equal to the existing forces, the US Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.
That much more ambitious and expensive move would require Congress's approval. Some in the Pentagon, including the former defence secretary James Mattis, have opposed the idea as unnecessary and creating new bureaucracy.
"SpaceCom will be followed by the establishment of the United States Space Force as the sixth branch of the United States armed forces," Trump said on Thursday.
"The Space Force will organise, train and equip warriors to support SpaceCom's mission."
Steve Kitay, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Space Policy, said a proposal could be added to the Defense Department's budget in the coming year, calling it a "strategic imperative."
In China and Russia, he said, "there is a perception that space represents an [American] Achilles heel and that this is an asymmetric advantage for them to then take on the United States' power."
"Space will not be an Achilles heel" for the US, he said.