On August 9, 2018, the Vice President announced that the Department of Defense has been tasked to create a sixth branch, the U.S. Department of the Space Force, by the year 2020. Plans were also announced to establish a new combatant command — U.S. Space Command — as well as a Space Operations Force and a new joint organization called the Space Development Agency. A new Assistant Secretary of Defense position for space is also in the works.
““The time has come to establish the United States Space Force,” Pence said.” The United States Space Force is the first proposed new branch of military service since the United States Air Force was officially created after World War II.
The announcement comes following a seven-week feasibility study ordered by the President. The creation of the a Space Force has, according to a Department of Defense press release, been motivated by research and development of weaponized space platforms by rival countries including China.
Concerns about space warfare aren’t limited to operations outside the Earth’s atmosphere; the August 9th 2018 press release announcing the U.S. Department of the Space Force included a brief mention of rival nations’ attempts to interfere with U.S. space communication and navigational platforms using ground-based tactics.
In the past, the United States has also researched space-based weaponry. In the 1980s, then-President Ronald Reagan announced a controversial program called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), derisively known as “Star Wars” by critics and opponents.
R&D into space-based weapons systems at that time included research into x-ray lasers, “neutral particle beams”, and something known as the hypervelocity railgun.
Some thought the creation of such weapons systems could ignite a space-based arms race, but according to the Department of Defense, China has successfully destroyed targets in space in recent years; Russia is also attempting to develop an airborne laser presumably for similar purposes. Vice President Mike Pence intimated in the DoD press statement that North Korea may have tried its’ hand at developing space weaponry, but did not elaborate.
SDI ended in 1993 and defense emphasis shifted away from space and toward more theater-based missile defense systems.
The Space Force concept announced by the White House may or may not have been inspired by Air Force Space Command, which is headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. The Air Force Space Command mission includes both space and cyberspace, but the United States Space Force would be an entirely new entity much larger than a major command, essentially proposed as its’ own branch of service similar to the Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps.
Benefits of a Space Force
Currently space-related efforts are scattered across the Army, Air Force, and Navy plus intelligence in the National Reconnaissance Office and Space and Missile Systems Center. About 80 percent of space qualified personnel reside in the Air Force, but all services have personnel with space expertise. A new service would theoretically ensure that there’s a branch of service focused 100 percent on space. Proponents have argued the Pentagon is complicated enough and this would just make it more complex. Another added benefit is that a Space Force would create career paths for people who specialize in space.
One particular area of national (and international) interest a U.S. Space Force could serve is protecting the network of satellites and other hardware used to maintain the effectiveness of Global Positioning System (GPS) operations.
Militaries and governments around the globe depend on GPS systems for a variety of uses on and off the battlefield. A physical threat to GPS hardware in space is something many refuse to take lightly; the creation of a Space Force in the minds of some would be a deterrent to a nation considering the tactical advantage of disrupting such systems.
Another serious issue is the ever-growing amount of man-made objects in orbit around the planet, creating potential hazards for space exploration.
A Space Force mission may include early warning and interdiction for nuclear missile launches against the United States or its’ partner nations, and could also operate space-based early warning and tracking missions for satellites that fall out of orbit and back into Earth’s atmosphere.
Space is an integral part of the National Defense Strategy and military operations worldwide depend on space. Squad operations in Afghanistan all the way through command and control of America’s nuclear deterrent depend on assets in space.
The Space Force is also expected to speed development and acquisition of space assets where there are currently around 140 military satellites. The pan would address who replaces those satellites, maneuvers them and who prevents tampering or jamming.
Do Other Countries Operate Some Form Of A Space Force?
A variety of other countries have operations that could be interpreted (loosely or otherwise) as a type of Space Force or an organization that could be modified to become more like a Space Force. They include:
- China – People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force
- Russia – Russian Aerospace Forces
- European Space Agency – a coalition of 22 member states but not under a militarized structure
- France – French Joint Space Command
- India – Integrated Space Cell
Opponents Of The U.S. Space Force As A Separate Branch Of The United States Military
In 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis put his objections to the creation of a sixth branch of the service in writing. A report at DefenseNews.com includes this quote from Mattis, who said in a letter
“At a time when we are trying to integrate the Department’s joint warfighting functions, I do not wish to add a separate service that would likely present a narrower and even parochial approach to space operations vice an integrated one we’re constructing under our current approach”. Mattis wrote those comments in a letter to members of Congress.
The Mattis letter is not the only high-ranking objection to the creation of a sixth branch of the military. Air Force General John W. Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command, wrote an op-ed in 2017 for Defense One titled, We Need to Focus on Space; We Don’t Need a ‘Space Corps’. In that piece, Raymond states;
“We must acquire space capabilities on relevant tactical timelines. We must be more agile in fielding capabilities into orbit. With the help of Congress, the Air Force has been successful at getting ‘Milestone Decision Authority’ for key space programs back to the Air Force”.
“This means the Air Force is responsible for major decisions during program development rather than the Office of Secretary Defense, essentially removing a layer of bureaucracy.”
That might not constitute a flat-out opposition to the Commander-in-Chief’s 2018 plans to create a U.S. Space Force, but the fact that the author of this is the head of the Air Force’s current major command responsible for all things related to space is a significant fact.
Who Supports The Space Force?
There are many who disagree with the opponents of a United States Space Force, and one of the most significant voices supporting it as a unique entity is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Another high-profile supporter is the Chairman of the Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers.
Current Operations That Could Be Taken Over By A U.S. Space Force
The Air Force’s “Space Mountain” operation, formally known as Cheyenne Mountain Complex, has tracked a large number of man-made objects in orbit as part of the Air Force mission. This mission is essential for the safety of any space-based operation including supply missions to the International Space Station (ISS), manned trips to the moon or Mars, etc.
The NASA official site reports some 500,000 man-made objects currently orbit the planet. A separate Space Force may well take on the responsibility for tracking these objects as part of its’ mission and could even begin an aggressive program to eliminate orbiting hazards.
The President stated in 2018 that space is a warfighting domain and should be treated just like sea, sky, and ground-based operations. This echoes the words of General John Raymond’s article quoted above but obviously departs from General John W. Raymond’s notion of keeping space operations within the jurisdiction of Air Force Space Command.
Will an actual Space Force be created as the sixth branch of military service? It may be too early to tell how the President’s directive plays out, but it definitely seems to be a going concern.
|Military and Veteran Discounts||Veteran Jobs|
|Money & Finance||Education|
|Space A Travel||Space Camp|