WASHINGTON — Troops are nearly evenly split over President Donald Trump’s controversial proposal for a new Space Force branch of the military, according to the results of a new Military Times poll of active-duty service members.

About 40 percent of troops surveyed in the anonymous survey of active-duty Military Times readers (conducted in September and October) support the idea of a new, sixth military branch focused on space operations, with about half of those strongly supporting the idea.

On the other side, nearly 37 percent disapprove of the proposal, with more than half of that group strongly opposing it.

In August, Vice President Mike Pence outlined Pentagon plans to create the new U.S. Space Command by as early as 2020. The service will be headed by a four-star general and an assistant secretary of defense for space that could eventually be elevated to a full service secretary.

The idea has been met with skepticism among some lawmakers on Capitol Hill because of the potential cost and potential redundancy with existing Air Force programs.

But Trump has repeatedly insisted that the move is needed to better organize the military’s current defense operations in space, especially in light of new satellite technology from adversaries like Russia and China.

Details of who would staff the new service, what rank and job structure they would adopt, and how many personnel would be added or shifted to the Space Force have yet to be determined. But that hasn’t stopped the individual services from starting to form strong opinions about the idea.

Members of the Air Force, which likely stands to lose the most manpower and funding if a new space service is stood up, were the most opposed in the Military Times poll. Nearly 48 percent disapproved of the idea.

Sailors also had a more negative opinion than a positive one, with 40 percent opposed and 36 percent in favor.

But the Space Force concept had significantly more support among ground forces. About 42 percent of soldiers surveyed and 55 percent of Marines surveyed voiced support for the change.

The idea is unpopular among military officers — only 27 percent said they approve, against 44 percent who oppose the idea — but enlisted troops appear to be more in favor of it. About 43 percent of them back the new force, versus 34 percent who disapprove of the move.

A CNN poll conducted shortly after Pence’s August speech on the Space Force showed a majority of the general public opposed to the idea, with 55 percent voicing disapproval for the plan.

By law, Congress must vote to establish the new military service. Administration officials are expected to make that debate a key part of next year’s defense budget process, and have said they are already working with supportive lawmakers on the next steps.

** Our methodology

Between Sept. 20 and Oct. 2, Military Times in collaboration with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University conducted a voluntary, confidential online survey of U.S. service members. The survey included 19 questions on service members’ opinion(s) related to the current political climate, policy and national security in the United States.

The survey received 829 responses from active-duty troops. The IVMF used standard methodology to estimate the weights for each individual observation of the survey sample. The margin of error for most questions was roughly 2 percent.

The survey audience was 89 percent male and 11 percent female, and had an average age of about 31 years old. The respondents identified themselves as 76 percent white, 13 percent Hispanic, 9 percent African American, 5 percent Asian and 6 percent other ethnicities. Respondents were able to select more than one race.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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