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. This branch of the service 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.
Does The Space Force Exist As A Branch Of Military Service?
At the time of this writing, the notion of a Space Force is essentially a speculative one; there is only a Presidential directive to the Defense Department ordering the creation of the force. That directive is controversial in some circles as there are many lawmakers who insist that Congress must be involved in any creation of a new branch of military service.
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. 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.
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.
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