President Trump said on Monday that he would direct the Pentagon to establish a sixth branch of the armed forces dedicated to protecting American interests in outer space, an idea that has troubled lawmakers and even some members of his administration, who have cautioned that the action could create unnecessary bureaucratic responsibilities for a military already burdened by conflicts.
During a speech at a meeting of the National Space Council, Mr. Trump announced plans to protect American interests in space through monitoring commercial traffic and debris, initiatives he said would be “great not only in terms of jobs and everything else, it’s great for the psyche of our country.”
Minutes later, the president zeroed in on Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and tasked him with the undertaking of creating another branch of the military.
“General Dunford, if you would carry that assignment out, I would be very greatly honored,” Mr. Trump said from the podium, after searching for him in the crowd.
“We got it,” the general replied.
With his statement, Mr. Trump waded into a policy debate about space that has spanned administrations, beginning in earnest during the Clinton era. Mr. Trump, who has previously teased his desire to create a space force, entered the fray as he was scheduled to sign a less ambitious proposal, one that would establish a framework for directing commercial traffic in space and monitoring debris.
Analysts were puzzling over the particulars.
“Does that verbal order translate into something more concrete?” said Todd Harrison, the director of the Aerospace Security Project and director of Defense Budget Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The most he can really ask them to do is start planning for it.”