March 21 (UPI) -- U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the U.S. needs a Space Force to maintain the nation's "dominance" in space, and protect the systems the military and country depend on.
The Space Force is needed to maintain the edge the United States has over its closest competitors in space technology and capability, Shanahan said..
The issue came about as Shanahan was speaking Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies about the Defense Department's reorganization to support space.
"My goal and the department's goal is to grow what we call our 'margin of dominance' in space," Shanahan said.
"This margin is now contested," he added. "What is vital is that we protect a $19 trillion economy and the systems our military runs on."
The process to establish a Space Force began 18 months ago after a conversation Shanahan had with Reps. Mike Rogers, R.-Ala., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., of the House Armed Services Committee's strategic forces subcommittee.
Earlier this month, the Department of Defense sent proposed Space Force legislation to Congress.
President Donald Trump hastened the legislative process with a directive in February ordering the Defense Department to establish the Space Force as a sixth branch of the military, though it will be organized as part of the Air Force -- at least, initially.
The United States needs to put as much effort behind protecting space as it does land, sea or air, he said, adding that a focus behind the warfighting space domain would be to protect U.S. satellites.
"If our satellites were attacked, we would be blind, deaf and impotent before we even knew what hit us," Shanahan said. "Everything from ATM machines to Zumwalt destroyers would be paralyzed."
The Pentagon estimates the cost for the new military branch is $2 billion over five years.
Shanahan told lawmakers it would be a small branch with about 15,000 to 20,000 members.
In addition to the Space Force, the Defense Department's reorganization to support space also includes development of a U.S. Space Command and a Space Development Agency.
"Our space presence will be enabled by new capabilities delivered by the Space Development Agency," he said.
Lawmakers have questioned why the Pentagon needs both a Space Force and a Space Command.
Shanahan said he would not allow the Space Force bureaucracy to grow too much, but the Space Force was needed along with the Space Command to provide space professionals a career path.
"We need to focus on developing warfighting culture and doctrine, create a pipeline of space experts," he said.
The Defense Department recommends having two four-star generals heading up the Space Force and a four-star commander in charge of the U.S. Space Command.
The department previously had a Space Command from 1985 to 2002, but it was shut down to make room for the U.S. Northern Command for homeland defense efforts.