US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday he "absolutely" agrees the Pentagon should create a new command dedicated to space, but he stopped short of fully endorsing President Donald Trump's order to create a whole new Space Force.
Trump in June ordered the creation of Space Force, which he said would become the sixth branch of the US military, arguing the Pentagon needs a dedicated service to tackle vulnerabilities in space and assert US dominance in orbit.
The Pentagon is expected this week to present Congress with proposals for how it will carry out Trump's order.
According to a draft copy of that report, obtained by the Defense One military news site, Pentagon planners are outlining a series of steps towards a Space Force.
Though the creation of a new branch of the military requires congressional approval, the Pentagon is proposing to create a new "combatant command," called US Space Command, that would be dedicated to space.
The vast US military divides the globe into combatant commands, such as Central Command in the Middle East or Indo-Pacific Command in Asia, and so a new Space Command would have the same profile as these.
A Pentagon reporter asked Mattis if he supported the creation of Space Command.
"Yes, absolutely," Mattis said.
"We need to address space as a developing, war-fighting domain and a combatant command is certainly one thing that we can establish."
Mattis last year voiced skepticism on the need to create a separate Space Force.
In a letter to a US congressman, he said he did "not wish to add a separate service that would likely present a narrower and even parochial approach to space operations," adding it would create extra bureaucracy and cost for the Pentagon.
Mattis said Tuesday the Pentagon is "in complete alignment with the president's concern about protecting our assets in space," but he did not elaborate on whether he supported building a whole new branch of the military.
"We're working it up. What that actual organization will look like -- it will be fit for purpose is what I can assure you. But I don't have all the final answers yet. We're still putting that together," he said.
The effort to build a new military branch for space highlights the critical dependence the armed services have on space for many aspects of warfighting.
GPS systems are built into many military technologies and a network of sensors and satellites floating in orbit provide continual and vital intelligence.
A computer-generated impression showing the thousands of objects in orbit around the Earth