President Donald Trump has signed an executive order directing the Defense Department to create a Space Force that will constitute a sixth independent branch of the US armed forces. The goal is to ensure American supremacy in space, outstripping other world powers, such as Russia and China. According to him, a mere US presence is not enough. “We must have American dominance in space,” the president emphasized. "We don't want China and Russia and other countries leading us. We've always led,” he added. Once the president’s order has been carried out, the Air Force would likely turn over its space duties to the new branch.
The Air Force is not pleased by the policy, and some military leaders do not support it. Defense Secretary James Mattis opposed it last year. Is he in the loop today? There will be a lot of problems with funds, allocating responsibilities, and reorganizing the other services, each of which has its own component that already deals with space missions. Will a position of space secretary be created? Will the top commander of the new force become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? There will be many questions to answer and problems to tackle.
For many years now outer space has been used as an operational domain for military spacecraft, such as imaging and communications satellites. As yet, however, no weapons have been stationed in space. The US, Russia, China, and other space-faring nations are signatories to the Outer Space Treaty (OST) of 1967, an arms-control deal reached at the height of the Cold War. Recognized by 107 nations (as of April 2018), the OST bars countries from stationing nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction anywhere in outer space, including in orbit around Earth. No military bases, tests of any kind, including conventional weapons, or exercises are allowed, but the treaty doesn't specifically ban the use of conventional weapons in open space or on space stations.