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Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2018, file photo, Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop speaks on the Senate floor at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Rob Bishop says Utah and especially Hill Air Force Base could play a key role in President Donald Trump's newly announced plans for a Space Force.

"The fact that Utah has been a prime player in space and the aerospace industry and space exploration for so long simply means we have a lot of expertise here in the state that I'm pretty sure will probably be exploited and used," the Utah Republican said Thursday.

Bishop, whose district includes Hill, said he has yet to be sold on the need to create a new branch of the military by 2020 to defend the United States in space, currently the responsibility of the Air Force.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
FILE - F-35 Lightning II jets from Hill Air Force Base perform a flyover during Stadium of Fire at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Wednesday, July 4, 2018.

"Personally, I still believe the Air Force would be well-qualified to be the lead agency," Bishop said, but added he is willing to consider the administration's proposal, noting space defense is not a new topic.

"I've seen a lot of comments about people wanting to join the Space Force as if this was some sort of quixotic, strange new idea, like somebody had just seen an episode of 'Star Trek,'" Bishop said. "It's not."

Utah "leads the nation in aerospace technology development," according to the Governor's Office of Economic Development, with programs at Hill Air Force Base and military testing at Dugway Proving Ground and other facilities.

" I've seen a lot of comments about people wanting to join the Space Force as if this was some sort of quixotic, strange new idea, like somebody had just seen an episode of 'Star Trek.' It's not. "
Rep. Rob Bishop

The office also cites major defense contractors — including Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin — that are operating in the state, creating an aerospace industry that employs more than 31,000 people.

Bishop said the intercontinental ballistic missile assembly and maintenance work done at Hill Air Force Base could end up being part of what would be the sixth branch of the military under the proposal detailed Thursday by Vice President Mike Pence.

"That is one of those things that is Hill's ace-in-the-hole," Bishop said, because trying to replicate the base's ICBM facilities somewhere else would be cost prohibitive. "You could take it from Hill, but not cheaply or logically."

A House Arms Services Committee report on military spending warns of "the inability of the organizations responsible for the nation’s national security-related space activities to prepare for space to become a warfighting domain."

The report also states that "Russia and China are developing capabilities to deny the United States the advantages we derive from operating in space." Both countries are said to be pursuing "nondestructive and destructive" anti-satellite weapons.

That caught the attention of Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, her spokesman, Richard Piatt, said Thursday.

"Rep. Love is concerned about credible reports that China and Russia are researching ways to undermine U.S. satellite communications and national security, and is eager to find ways to protect national interests," Piatt said.

He said the congresswoman "will review any proposals in detail and discuss with national security experts and military leaders whether the proposed Space Force is the best way to meet our security needs.”

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Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, is waiting to see details of the administration's proposal, his spokeswoman, Katie Thompson, said. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, was out of the country Thursday and not available for comment.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said America needs "to be in space because there's an awful lot going on in space."

Hatch said the Space Force would also be a tribute to former Utah Sen. Jake Garn, who became the first sitting member of Congress to fly in space when he joined the crew of the Discovery space shuttle as a payload specialist in 1985.