Speaking at a June meeting of the newly-reestablished National Space Council in the White House, President Trump called for a "Space Force" to be added as a sixth co-equal military branch. He ordered the Pentagon to "immediately begin the process" of making it happen.
The president said, "When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space."
Any critics who argue that such a plan will "militarize space" should consider that the U.S. military has been developing offensive and defensive ballistic missiles and launching and operating satellites for decades.
So have Russia, China, and famously now, North Korea as well.
Iran is not far behind.The general Space Force idea isn’t entirely new or without precedent.
Last year, the U.S. House had previously approved creating a "Space Corps" under the umbrella of the U.S. Air Force — much like the Marine Corps, which has its own commandant, answers to the Navy secretary.
The bill died in the U.S. Senate. The Air Force, which stiles itself as an aerospace force, clearly opposes the Trump White House idea of creating a separate, independent outside competitor for space budgets, assets, and responsibilities.
Their Pentagon leadership and supporters logically fear negative impacts which include losses of human and technical resources, reduced mission roles and promotion opportunities, and a diminished capacity to award politically-beneficial equipment contracts.
Government agency budget fights have long histories of often being more about preserving power than about preserving national security. The military bureaucracy, in this case the Air Force, views the newest battle as a zero-sum contest not only with a new competitor, but also with a former one.
Through an ironic round robin turn of technological events, a separate space force will tend to relegate a primary air force role back to providing tactical air support for the Army. That is the same military department it originally emerged from by successfully arguing that advancing ballistic missile technologies during the 1950’s fell under a new aeronautical domain, rather than the previous artillery category.
Creating a space force will amount to far more than simply rewiring a Pentagon organization chart.
According to a 2016 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, there are 60 distinct entities sprawling across government that deal with managing or acquiring space technology assets. There should also be no illusions that such government reorganizations offer any panaceas and occur either rapidly and painlessly.
The Department of Homeland Security which was created following 9/11 to lead 16 different intelligence agencies required a decade of entrenched turf wars and contentious disruptions to overcome most resistance. In any case, air and space operations will need to continue to be closely linked and coordinated across vast civil and military spectra.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine recently reminded us, "Our way of life is dependent on space. The way we communicate. Over the horizon communications. The way we produce food. The way we produce energy.
"The way we do disaster relief. In fact, the way we do banking in the United States of America, if we lose the GPS signal, there are no interbank transfers. That means there will be no milk in the grocery store. Our way of life shuts down."
Echoing this, Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who sits on the House Armed Services Committee said at a February Center for Strategic and International Studies Forum, "We could be deaf, dumb and blind within seconds.
Seldom has a great nation been so vulnerable.
The Space Force would develop and operate the ultimate "eye in the sky" in an ever-expanding theater of national security operations. Just as now, satellites will afford unmatched insight and oversight of enemy and allied positions; will transmit and coordinate data in real-time with intel from ground forces; and will reveal and enable effective target acquisition of hidden weapon and munition depots.
As for "space wars," a major threat lies in our adversaries’ capacities to attack our orbital space assets. Russia and China are known to possess dedicated anti-satellite systems which can imperil our vital communications and navigation satellite systems — GPS tracking included.
There should be no question that the primary purpose of a space force must be to achieve space superiority which denies any foe the use of, and access to, low Earth orbit and beyond. In doing so, the new military department’s most important role will be to prevent wars — to marshal sufficient U.S. assets and power to make any potential enemy think twice and thrice about making trouble.
The legendary Chinese strategist Sun Tzu said nearly 1,500 years ago that the most excellent way to win a war is to do so without fighting. Let’s hope President Xi Jinping, among other international leaders, got that memo.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2012). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." Read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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