President Trump signed the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Dec. 20, officially standing up the Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces under the Air Force.

“America’s superiority in space is absolutely vital and we’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough,” Trump said Friday evening at a ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. “But very shortly, we’ll be leading by a lot.”

The president lauded Congress’ passage of the $738 billion defense authorizing bill this week, making brief remarks in front of senior Pentagon officials and military personnel before signing the bill.

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett called Friday “an historic moment for our nation” in a media conference at the Pentagon.

“The president’s vision of a Space Force will become a reality today … with overwhelming bipartisan, bicameral support from Congress, a Congress that recognized the importance of space to today’s American way of life,” she added.

The FY ’20 NDAA included $40 million to begin standing up the Office of the Space Force headquartered at the Pentagon. Upon the signing, Trump announced that U.S. Space Command Commander Gen. John Raymond will lead the U.S. Space Force and serve as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Raymond was dual-hatted as the Air Force Space Command Commander until the NDAA was signed into law.

Starting on Day 1, personnel assigned to Air Force Space Command will be assigned to the Space Force as an “initial step” toward establishing the new branch, officials said Friday. The branch will be fully stood up over the next 18 months, and plans are ongoing to flesh out details such as uniforms, personnel transfer processes and developing a separate Space Force culture.

About 16,000 military and civilian personnel from AFSPC will be assigned to the Space Force as of Friday, but remain airmen within the Air Force, with appropriate personnel being given the opportunity to transfer to the Space Force at a later date. “Over time, the DoD vision is to consolidate space missions from across the Armed Forces into the USSF, as appropriate and consistent with law,” said a U.S. Space Force Fact Sheet provided by the Air Force Friday.

The fiscal year 2021 five-year Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) will have a separate budget for the Space Force, officials confirmed. They declined to provide any details about what may be included in the budget, but Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Steve Kitay noted that a rollout is currently expected in February 2020.

“The birthday of the United States Space Force is today, so clearly the budget will reflect a United States Space Force,” Kitay said.

Raymond said plans are in process to redesignate some of the Air Force’s space-related bases to “Space Force” bases, to include those in Colorado – Peterson AFB, Schriever AFB and Buckley AFB – along with Vandenberg AFB, California; and Patrick AFB, Florida, among others.

“Together, the Space Force and the Air Force will control the high ground and deliver great advantage for our nation. Today’s establishment truly launches us into a new era,” Raymond said.

Some acquisition-related processes remain in progress. Barrett told reporters that a search for a new space acquisition executive – a new role that was designated in the FY ’20 NDAA – does not have a deadline attached to it.

“We do have a list of people who have been recommended, some insights from a variety of space experts, and we’re working on that,” she said. “We would anticipate that as something that would be in the next several phases [of the Space Force].”

The eventual inclusion of Navy, Army and other Defense Department space assets into the Space Force continues to be discussed. Senior Air Force officials told reporters that there are “no immediate changes” expected to the roles and responsibilities of agencies such as the Missile Defense Agency or the National Reconnaissance Office, which handle various space-related programs for the Defense Department.

The goal remains to eventually incorporate Navy and Army elements, the officials said. For now, Congress has only authorized Air Force personnel be included.

Retired Air Force Gen. Chris Bogdan, senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton’s [BAH] aerospace business and former F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Executive Officer, hailed the standup for recognizing space as a critical warfighting domain, “one that is congested, contested and highly competitive.”

“U.S. adversaries have thought this for years, and we’re seeing a new sense of urgency from the U.S. to close the gap,” he said in a Friday statement.

While the renewed focus on space is to be applauded, the U.S. military and defense industry must also focus on investing in capabilities that will enable the same level of dominance in space as the U.S. military has had in other domains, Bogdan noted. He cited the acceleration of development of artificial intelligence technologies and space-based weapons systems including directed energy lasers as being critically needed, along with a change in speed for the way space systems are built.

“We simply cannot afford technologies that take decades to develop and are unable to rapidly and inexpensively adapt to an ever-changing environment,” he said.