What the heck is wrong with you, Space Force?
According to the August 25 Stars and Stripes and August 26 Military Times, William Shatner of Star Trek fame is asking this question to the "very esteemed members of the U.S. Space Force" and other "U.S. Government poohbahs." He is referring to a dispute over the ranks of President Trump's new Space Force — and his preferences, of course. And a decision seems to be on hold.
Shatner is referring to his fictional Star Trek role, first as Captain of the Starship Enterprise and then Admiral James Tiberius Kirk as Commander of Star Fleet Operations. It should not have been an unanticipated question, given the similarity of the logos for U.S. Space Force the fictional Star Fleet Command.
A major difference, of course, is that the U.S. Space Force operates under another service, the U.S. Air Force, which in turn reports to the Joint Chiefs and has an important acquisition and advisory role.
Since the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act intended to overcome previous intra-service rivalry and reinforce the principal of civilian control of the military, the nation's operations commands report through the Secretary of Defense to the U.S. Commander in Chief, the U.S. president.
This chain of command implies that the U.S. Space Command is several tiers below how the fictional Starfleet command reported — to a fictional United Federation of Planets, presumably in which a unified Earth Command would be a member of a "United Federation of Planets" — a distant future possibility?
Still, Kirk's — pardon me, Shatner's — question is a good one, reflecting an ongoing debate, no doubt prompted in part by the fact that the Space Force is currently embedded in the U.S. Air Force.
Therefore, the Air Force wants the Space Force to employ the rank structure (e.g., colonels and generals) it adopted from the U.S. Army when it was formed as a separate service in 1947, following its World War II role as the Army Air Corps. (Though the Air Force has Squadrons, Groups and Wings and the Army has Companies, Battalions and Regiments.)
Retired USAF Lt. General David Deptula implicitly argues for this outcome in his August 16, The Hill article, "Let the Space Force Decide Its Own Ranks."
General Deptula's article appears to have been prompted to counter an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021 — NDAA(2021), proposed by Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), a proud Navy hero, and his amendment requires the newly established space orbiteers to use Navy ranks and grades — e.g., captains and admirals.
William Shatner, alias James T. Kirk, agrees with Rep. Crenshaw, of course.
However this argument comes out, all the current services should play important roles in the U.S. Space Force ... and have a historical basis for doing so.
The USAF space activities were initiated by Gen. Bernard "Benny" Schriever — and a brand-new team established in Southern California. Key to his Atlas, Titan and Minuteman rapid development and deployment activities was USAF Gen. Sam Phillips, who led the development of the staging technology that was essential in meeting President Kennedy's May 25, 1961 challenge to land a man on the moon and to return him safely to Earth by the end of the 1960s — he led NASA's Apollo team that achieved that goal ahead of schedule.
Thus, the Army and Air Force space activities have been apparent for decades. Indeed, Gen. Schriever served in the Army Air Corps before and during World War II. And his key "lieutenant" in beginning the Air Force's Space capabilities, Gen. Sam Phillips, also served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
While the Navy connection may be less apparent, the Navy has been involved in exploring space from the beginning. Its Vanguard program lost out to the Army's (Von Braun's) Redstone efforts in placing our first satellite in orbit — but it also has been active in developing, deploying and operating satellites and its sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) since the late '50s.
And once the super-secret National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) was formed in 1961, it has played a very important role in developing cutting-edge technology for associated intelligence-gathering space missions.
Thus, it should not surprise anyone that there may be some discord in assigning "Space Force" roles and ranks, especially from the various long-existing service responsibilities, authorities and operations.
And I didn't mean to leave out the Marines — recall that John Glenn, our first astronaut to orbit the Earth, was a Marine. I'm not sure of a prior Coast Guard role, but there may be an analogous one among future Space Force missions.
Notably, the Marines, embedded in the Navy, employs the same rank structure as the Army, e.g. colonels and generals, whereas the Coast Guard employs the Navy's rank structure — captains and admirals.
Whatever, the fact that the U.S. Space Force is currently embedded in the U.S. Air Force does not preclude the constructive involvement of the other services. Dealing with the separate interservice history is one of many challenges — one that is, in my opinion, made more difficult than it would have been if the U.S. Space Force had been set up as a separate service.
It will be interesting to see how long before the "powers that be" see the merits of a separate service — recall it took World War II to make that case clearly enough for those "powers that were" to set up a separate USAF from the Army Air Corps.
I hope it won't take another global war to make that happen.
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary, Science Adviser to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory and a USAF Reserve Captain. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. Read Ambassador Cooper's Reports — More Here.
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