NEW YORK/NEW ORLEANS – U.S. President Donald Trump signed an almost $750 billion defense spending bill Monday, while vowing a new Space Force would give America dominance over rivals in China and elsewhere.
“Our competitors have begun weaponizing space,” Trump warned troops at Fort Drum in New York state, as he signed a National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress earlier this month.
“It’s not enough to have American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space,” Trump said, as he warned of the threat from China and elsewhere.
“Look at what they’re doing, they have given me run-downs,” he said in reference to security briefings. “I’ve seen things that you don’t want to see what they’re doing and how advanced they are.
“They want to jam transmissions which threaten our battlefield operations and so many other things.
“We’ll be catching them very shortly,” he said. “We will be so far ahead of them in a very short time, your head will spin.”
He specifically mentioned a “new” Chinese military division that oversees space operations.
Meantime, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine expressed full support the same day for Trump’s proposed military Space Force but added that it will have a role separate from NASA.
Bridenstine said in New Orleans that NASA’s responsibilities involve science, space exploration and technology development. As for defense and national security, he told reporters in New Orleans, “We want to be an agency that maintains its independence from those capabilities.”
Bridenstine was touring the Michoud Assembly Center, where workers are putting together major parts of systems that are planned to return Americans to the moon and, eventually, take them to Mars. In a towering building, Boeing workers are building parts of the 322-foot-high (98-meter) rocket known as the Space Launch System. Lockheed Martin workers are building the spacecraft called Orion.
Bridenstine, a former Republican congressman, was nominated by Trump to head NASA last year and confirmed by the Senate in April.
He was among the officials with Trump in June when he called for creation of a new military branch known as the Space Force. He said it’s needed because the nation’s space assets — including satellite technology and global positioning systems — are vital to numerous interests and industries, including communications, navigation, food and energy production, banking and climate.
“If we lose GPS, we lose banking in the United States of America. There’s no milk in the grocery store in a matter of three days,” he said.
The Space Force plan requires congressional approval. Military leaders and experts have questioned the wisdom of launching an expensive, bureaucratic new service branch.
Bridenstine praised workers at Michoud for their work on the Orion spacecraft and the SLS rocket that will launch it into space, saying their efforts are helping the U.S. get ahead and stay ahead of other nations in space.
“This is a brand new, very large project that is unmatched in the world,” he said. “And it will remain unmatched for a very long time.”
The SLS rocket is expected to launch an unmanned Orion mission beyond the moon and back, a 40,000-mile (64,000-km) trip, in late 2019.