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Pence calls for Space Force during visit to Vandenberg AFB

Vice President Mike Pence gives opening remarks before a meeting with members of the National Space Council on “leading the next frontier” at the Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Va., Oct. 5, 2017. The council includes top government and Defense Department officials. (Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/Department of Defense)

Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday evening reiterated President Donald Trump’s desire to welcome a “new millennium” of space investment and exploration during a speech at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Attended by more than 400 base personnel and invited guests, Pence said Vandenberg plays a key role in the nation’s space operations. He praised the base personnel for their work supporting other government agencies and the commercial space industry.

And, to booming cheers and thundering applause from the entire audience, he reiterated President Donald Trump’s call to establish a “Space Force” as the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“Our nation’s Armed Forces have always been a vanguard of advancing American leadership beyond the bounds of Earth,” he said, “and the Space Force … is the next and the natural evolution of American military supremacy. So, get ready for it.”

Pence spoke after touching down in Air Force Two at Vandenberg just after 5 p.m. Wednesday for the second stop on a two-day trip to California. He and Second Lady Karen Pence were greeted by cheers and applause from a crowd waving American flags, before being whisked away in a motorcade for a briefing and tour of the base Combined Space Operations Center.

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Wednesday’s trip marked Pence’s first visit to Vandenberg since taking office. Earlier in the day, he delivered remarks at a Coalinga fundraiser for President Trump’s re-election campaign and spoke about trade between the United States, Mexico and Canada at a Lemoore farm.

Situated on nearly 100,000 acres of land mere miles from Lompoc, Vandenberg – the third largest Air Force base in the U.S. – has played a key role in the nation’s space and missile test operations since its 1957 inception.

“In the President’s inaugural address, he proclaimed that the United States stood, in his words, ‘at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space,’” Pence told the crowd. He noted the “vital role” the Armed Forces – including Vandenberg AFB – have played “in protecting American interests in the vast expanse of space.”

In 1959 the base launched Discoverer 1 – a cover for the U.S. Military’s first photo reconnaissance program – as the world’s first polar orbiting satellite. While Pence called it an “essential step in our effort to win the space race,” he pointed to Vandenberg’s current mission as an example of the nation’s “leadership” in space.

The base now serves as home for the 30th Space Wing, an Air Force unit which supports government and commercial space launch activities on the West Coast. Intercontinental ballistic missiles are regularly tested over the Pacific Ocean, and the base’s location provides a point to launch satellites into polar orbit without flying over populated areas.

In March, the 30th Space Wing, in conjunction with the Missile Defense Agency, successfully tested ground-based interceptors designed to destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles before they strike the U.S. mainland. Pence equated the feat to “a bullet hitting a bullet.”

Pence praised the unit’s work with private companies – like SpaceX, which launched $3 billion in Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit over eight separate missions – to “modernize” the nation’s space infrastructure.

“This base is proof that in today’s space age, the public and private sectors can achieve far more together than they ever did apart,” he added. “It’s really remarkable.”

He also touted the Trump administration’s support of private sector partnerships, a willingness he felt had been historically absent in space policy and the upper echelons of the federal government.

“But for too long – as American industry and technology leapt toward the future – the truth is, and you know it, government agencies seemed stuck in the past, or at least moving [at a] much, much slower pace … than our private sector,” Pence said.

According to Pence, the Trump administration has “taken decisive action to unleash America’s space industry like never before.” They’ve cut bureaucratic “red tape” and developed policy to manage space traffic.

“The president puts it fairly plainly,” Pence said. “We want to see the private space industry grow, because, as he said: ‘Rich guys love rockets. And we’re going to let them build them. And we’re going to let them fly them. And they’re going to fly right out of Vandenberg Air Force Base.”

Given the base’s “leadership in space” through defense activities and partnerships with the private sector, Pence promised the crowd that Vandenberg “is going to be crucial to ensuring American dominance in space for decades to come.”

The base houses the Combined Space Operations Center, which provides military intelligence regarding threats in and from space to the U.S. and its allies. And while military officials have yet to announce the headquarters location for the proposed U.S. Space Command, Vandenberg is one of six on the shortlist and will serve as the location for a major component of the proposal.

“Space is ‘a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air and sea,’” Pence told the audience, recounting something President Trump said during his first year in office. “And the United States of America is going to be as dominant in space as we are on land, and air and sea.”

According to Pence, Trump has allocated more funding for defense purposes – roughly $1.4 trillion over the first two years of his presidency – than prior administrations. That money, Pence said, will not only “restore the arsenal of democracy” but provide funding for the U.S. Space Force.

Though he offered few details regarding the proposal, Pence said he is currently working with members of Congress on legislation to establish the Space Force as the sixth branch of service.

“The next generation of Americans to provide for our common defense in the boundless expanse of space will also be wearing the uniform of the United States Space Force,” he said.

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© 2019 Santa Maria Times, Calif.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.