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Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan says no to Trump’s proposed ‘Space Force’

U.S. Strategic Command Commander Gen. John Hyten (R) makes remarks as NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (C) and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross listen during a House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing Friday on President Donald Trump’s proposed Space Force. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan is, for now, a hard "no" on President Donald Trump's proposed new "Space Force" branch of the military.

Sullivan, a Republican, sits on several U.S. Senate committees of relevant jurisdiction: the Armed Services Committee, the Committee on Veterans Affairs and the space subcommittee of the Commerce Committee. He is a Marine.

Trump announced on Monday he was directing the Pentagon to pursue creation of a new branch of the military, the so-called "Space Force." He has since raised the issue in several venues, including to excited chants at a Minnesota rally, and touted it as virtually a done deal.

Former U.S. astronaut Buzz Aldrin winks at a fellow attendee as he arrives for President Donald Trump’s remarks before a meeting of the National Space Council at the White House in Washington on Monday. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

But Congress holds the pursestrings and would have to be on board — and take legislative action — to craft a distinct new branch of the military. Currently, the Air Force has a "Space Command" headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.

In an interview in his Washington, D.C., office Friday, Sullivan said now is not the time.

"I think we should put our attention and the generals should be putting their attention and the civilian leadership at the Pentagon should be putting their attention on" rebuilding the military and its readiness, he said. "We've had a significant decrease in funding. We've had a very discernible decline in readiness."

"My view is we should be focusing our resources, which we're increasing, but are still in many ways limited, to the rebuilding and readiness of the five current services. And we can look at and debate the Space Force idea once we get back to levels of readiness in the current force that we need to focus on," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said his objection was one of bandwidth, and that the idea is not without merit.

"Look, I think the president's focus on space and the national security challenges and commercial challenges is very important," he said. And among senators there is "definitely a constituency" interested in adding a sixth branch to the military, he said.

The "Space Force," if not as a separate branch, has seen traction in Congress before. According to the Wall Street Journal, a House version of a prior annual defense authorization bill created a space force within the Air Force. But the provision was removed in the Senate after pushback from military officials.

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