The Pentagon is taking new steps to create a space force by 2020 in order to "meet the emerging threats on this new battlefield," U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday.
Speaking at the Pentagon, Pence announced, "Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield. ... The time has come to establish the United States Space Force."
President Donald Trump repeatedly has called for the creation of a space force as a new military branch that he says is needed to ensure U.S. dominance in space.
In a posting on Twitter, Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, called a space force "a dumb idea."
The Pentagon submitted a report to Congress on Thursday detailing its space management changes.
The report details the creation of Space Command, which will oversee a Space Operations Force made up of space experts from different military branches.
Officials say this structure lays the foundation for a new military branch in the next 18 to 24 months, should Congress approve it. Congress is the only branch of government that has the authority to approve the creation of a new military division.
Trump shared his excitement after the announcement on Twitter:
In a letter to Congress last year, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opposed the creation of a new military branch and cautioned against creating "organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint war-fighting functions."
On Thursday, though, Mattis endorsed the space management changes that would utilize members of existing military branches.
"We've got to be able to compete, deter and win," Mattis said.
WATCH: Pence Says Proposed Space Force Needed to Meet Threats on 'New Battlefield'
The space report, seen by VOA, points out that China and Russia "are explicitly pursuing space war-fighting capabilities to neutralize U.S. space capabilities during a time of conflict."
"As their actions make clear, our adversaries have transformed space into a war-fighting domain already, and the United States will not shrink from this challenge," Pence said Thursday.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan, who wrote the space report, told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday that once established, the new military branch would allow the military to move faster in the space domain.
About 18,000 people across the Department of Defense work in the field of space, with tasks that include protecting about 140 military satellites that generate trillions of dollars of economic output, according to Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Selva added that the creation of a new service branch would "nurture" the group that "guards that national treasure in space."
The creation of the new force "is what the president has asked us to do, and it's our obligation to deliver to him a set of legislative proposals that make some sense, so we have to get at that," he said.
Seen as vital step
The last time a new branch was created was in 1947, when the military established a new Air Force following World War II after realizing the strategic importance of air power. Proponents of a space force say it's the next logical step for the military.
"I think we are approaching that point for space — that space has become so important to our military, to our overall economy, that we're going to need a cadre of professionals that eat, sleep and breathe space, that that's what they focus on," Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA.