Utah Legislature to add ‘Space Force’ as a branch of the armed forces in state code

Space Force was primarily Trump’s vision but appears likely to survive the Biden administration.

(Alex Brandon | AP file photo) In this May 15, 2020, file photo, Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman displays his insignia during a presentation of the United States Space Force flag in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. President Joe Biden has been working quickly to undo many initiatives by his predecessor, but Donald Trump's space-faring military service, Space Force, seems likely to survive.

The Utah Senate voted unanimously Thursday in support of a bill that would add Space Force as a branch of the armed forces equal to the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard in Utah code.

If ultimately signed by the governor, Utah would become one of the first states to include Space Force in its code — something the bill’s sponsor, former Utah National Guard adjutant general Jefferson Burton, R-Salem, has said he hopes could signal early support for the endeavor as it gets off the ground.

Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, said Thursday that the bill could also open the state up to “opportunities for economic growth in our defense sector.”

HB57, which previously received unanimous support in the House, is relatively simple in that it seeks to mirror similar changes in federal code. The proposal is not estimated to cost the government anything at this point, though a fiscal note states that future consolidation of nonmilitary government agencies into Space Force could “lead to future revenue loss or state expenditure” in amounts that “are not currently ascertainable.”

Trump first floated the idea in 2018 of creating a force to handle military operations in the atmosphere as a way to ensure “American dominance in space.” The force was officially established in December 2019, with plans to stand it up within an 18-month time frame.

The name has evoked visions on Twitter and on late night comedy shows of troops in space suits protecting the Earth in zero-gravity conditions — something mirrored in the Senate debate Thursday as Sen. Gregg Buxton, R-Roy, asked whether the bill meant that “we’re going to be protected by space cadets now?”

“Cadets are Air Force personnel,” Cullimore responded. “In the U.S. Space Force they are called guardians. That’s true.”

Jokes aside, most of the work of the Space Force is intended to be done on the ground. And its primary aim will be to protect satellites used for navigation and communications.

“Space is becoming a contested environment,” Burton told his colleagues in the House during debate of the bill late last month. “And thus we need a Space Force.”

On its website, the Space Force describes itself as a “military service that organizes, trains, and equips space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force.” The force’s responsibilities will include “developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems, maturing the military doctrine for space power, and organizing space forces to present to our Combatant Commands.”

Space Force was primarily Trump’s vision, but it appears likely that it will survive President Joe Biden’s administration. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this month — after making light of a previous question about Space Force — that the new armed forces branch has the “full support of the Biden administration.”

“We are not revisiting the decision to establish the Space Force,” she said.

HB57 requires one final procedural vote in the Senate before moving to the governor’s desk for his signature or veto.