Discussions in recent days with friends and family indicate that few have a clue as to why establishing a US Space Force might actually be a good idea.
Allow me to offer a few reasons:
(1) Good government and governance: currently, military space capability is diffused amongst the Air Force, Navy, Army, National Reconnaissance Office, Missile Defense Agency, and other agencies. The Defense Department periodically reorganizes its space authority. This results in a lack of unity of command, budget overlap, and confusion about “who is in charge”.
(2) Our adversaries are ahead of us: there are critically important areas where the US and its allies no longer enjoy military preeminence in space at a time when the global economy and its citizenry are ever more dependent upon space assets for the financial system, communications, internet access, navigation, weather, climate monitoring, natural resources, and more.
(3) National strategy: we have doctrine for sea power, air power, and land power. It is not clear who is responsible for space power doctrine. As a result, the nation doesn’t have a comprehensive strategic underpinning for its military space capacity. The same might be said for cyber, by the way.
(4) Science and technology: there are crucial technology areas that require greater organizational attention and budgetary focus. The US has a proud history of breakthroughs in space science and technology and we need to foster a new generation of technologists and leading-edge development.
(5) Deterrence: we don’t want conflict in space. The consequences on our 21st century economy and day-to-day life would be devastating. We need to have an approach that maximizes our ability to deter conflict in space and to prepare to fight and win a war in space should deterrence fail.
(6) The Global Space Commons: the global economy enjoys freedom of movement and commerce at sea and in the air. There are international norms and legal and regulatory frameworks that govern the global commons. The global maritime commons is secured by navies, including the US Navy, to keep the sea lines of communication open. Coast Guard services enforce maritime law and regulations. Space is the new global commons. Surely, we want it to be secure, safe, and well governed for the benefit of all.
In other words, if you like your mobile phone, your ATM, on-line banking, GPS navigation, and more, then you ought to be interested in the United States’s approach to defense in space.
The establishment of the Space Force as the best way to deter conflict and to prepare to fight a war in space should deterrence fail.
Unfortunately, the Air Force has failed to establish space warfighting doctrine and an associated strategic framework.
And, the Congress is frustrated with the Air Force’s performance as the principal acquisition agent for military space capabilities. In the interest of unity of command and good government the Congress ought to establish an independent Space Force.
There are lessons to be learned from the establishment of the independent Air Force in 1947 and from the failure of the first United States Space Command that was established in 1985 and disestablished in 2002. That said, I share the Post’s concern about unintended consequences and the potential for creating a sclerotic bureaucracy.
A successful Space Force “birthing” would ensure that the new organization has
(1) great leadership with a blend of vision and pragmatism;
(2) a small cadre of brilliant officers to craft space doctrine and strategy and to create an organizational construct that will ensure that joint warfighting capacity is enhanced and not harmed;
(3) a culture of innovation in technology and systems acquisition similar to the historical National Reconnaissance Office;
and (4) a clearly articulated mission that resonates with our allies and with the American people.
The threats in space are real and we require a 21st century military space posture that can deal with those threats.
The writer is a former US Air Force officer and retired aerospace and defense executive.