Speaking to reporters in an impromptu press conference Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders floated the possibility of arming fixed-wing Predator drones to patrol Earth’s atmosphere, hinting at one of the first details of President Trump’s “Space Force” proposal.
During a speech to service members at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, Calif. last week, the President proposed the creation a new military branch to operate outside earth’s atmosphere.
“Space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air, and sea,” Trump said. “We may even have a Space Force, develop another one, Space Force. We have the Air Force, we’ll have the Space Force.”
Sanders fleshed out Trump’s off-the-cuff idea during Friday’s press briefing, adding the Administration has created an Air Force/NASA task force to craft a proposal for Congress by 2019.
While details are scarce, the White House spokeswoman said the plan will showcase drones as a major defensive platform.
“Time and time again, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have proven their worth on the battlefield,” Sanders said. “We’re strongly considering a rocket-powered version of the remaining fixed-wing Predator fleet to protect American interests in outer space.”
When asked about the feasibility of a drone-based space defense system, Acting NASA Administrator Michael Lightfoot Jr. said an orbital UAV platform could provide a strong deterrent to potential threats to American space exploration by nations with emerging space programs like North Korea.
“The last iteration of the Predator was designed to carry up to two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. I don’t see why zero gravity should hamper the ballistics for that kind of firepower,” he said.
Sending Predators to space would also solve a surplus problem for the U.S. military. In March, the Defense Department announced the retirement of the venerable drone which will be replaced by the heavier MQ-9 Reaper. With more than 100 Predators still in service, a mission to space could save millions in decommissioning cost.
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