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President Donald Trump. Space Force, Authorized.

U.S. POLITICS

Space Force, Authorized.

President Trump is right: dominance in space is necessary to protect American interests.

On December 9, 2019, Congress unveiled the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020, which includes language to authorize a U.S. Space Force as an independent military branch under the Department of the Air Force. “Space is the world’s newest war-fighting domain,” President Trump said during the signing ceremony for the most recent defense bill. “Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital. And we’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough. But very shortly we’ll be leading by a lot.”

President Trump is correct: the time to create a separate space-oriented branch of the U.S. Armed Forces is now.

We first heard about the Space Force in March 2018, when President Trump declared to an audience of Marines that “space is a war-fighting domain just like the land, air, and sea.” After the speech, President Trump directed the Defense Department to begin the process of creating the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces during a meeting with the newly revived National Space Council.

Unlike the United States, China and Russia have been aggressively expanding their presence in space. The threats to American national security in space are intensifying, and these threats directly impact our prospects of advancing the U.S. economy. The U.S. Space Force would be able to combat the emerging space threats and help fuel an up-and-coming trillion-dollar economy.

President Trump is correct: the time to create a separate space-oriented branch of the U.S. Armed Forces is now.

SR-71 Blackbird. / THE CRITICAL NATURE OF SPACE INFRASTRUCTURE

SR-71 Blackbird.

THE CRITICAL NATURE OF SPACE INFRASTRUCTURE

Space is increasingly seen as an area with significant economic opportunities, which is precisely why we need a designated Space Force. This was, in fact, the exact same reason why the U.S. Navy was created—to secure American commerce.

Without a designated Space Force, we put our servicemen and women, and every scale of military and government, at risk.

Space is already a $350 billion economy, with projections suggesting trillions could be made. According to Morgan Stanley, there are at least a hundred private companies across different sectors, such as satellite internet, rockets, space tourism, and asteroid mining, that are trying to stake their place in the space race. Many nations and corporations have, or have stated their intention to create space programs.

With the creation of the Space Force, the U.S. can address the growing threats posed to our space systems by China, Russia, and other powers. While reorganizing the Air Force may seem disruptive and costly, the environment today shows that the threats are becoming more sophisticated. It is high time for American space capabilities to advance within a single branch of our military, instead of having projects scattered throughout the Armed Forces.

Without a Space Force, the United States would fall behind the Russian Space Forces and the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force, both of which pose a severe threat to our critical communication infrastructure, like satellites. Both China and Russia have demonstrated they have the capacity to destroy America’s satellites if a war breaks out. China, which has a history of launching anti-satellite tests, conducted such a test in July 2015, which military officials later learned was “successful” even if it didn’t destroy anything. Last month, the Russian military launched a top-secret military satellite that U.S. officials believe has anti-satellite capabilities.

This might seem innocuous, but consider the amount of damage an attack on our communications infrastructure could inflict. Communications networks between police and paramedics, crisis control centers who take command in the event of an emergency, data exchange networks between all branches of the military—all of these depend on the safe and secure orbit of American satellites. “If China attacks U.S. satellites, down goes the space network that handles everything from Google maps to gas pumps to banking. And the U.S. could be blind to incoming missile attacks on our military forces overseas and yes, even at home,” Fox’s Rebecca Grant reports. Without a designated Space Force, we put our servicemen and women, and every scale of military and government, at risk.

A view of Earth from the International Space Station. / PRESIDENT TRUMP’S PLAN FIXES A BROKEN SYSTEM

A view of Earth from the International Space Station.

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S PLAN FIXES A BROKEN SYSTEM

Under the current space system, there is no unified, stable team of space-centric personnel responsible for developing space-centric strategy, doctrine, and policy. Because of this fracture, there continue to be conflicts of interest when it comes to space that undermine our safety.

A cohesive group of space professionals will develop space-centric strategy, doctrine, and policy; they will remove the conflicts of interest that have led space programs to stagnate in other services.

The existing branches of the military are built around their primary field of battle (ground, sea, and air), and space is seen as a secondary or supporting function. For example, the Air Force has, legitimately, complained that it funds the most of the unclassified space systems and that the other branches rely on what the Air Force is expected to bear the cost of. Former Air Chief of Staff General Michael Ryan summed up the Air Force’s view on space, noting that they “can’t afford to be the bank for all space systems,” and that, “space is not a welfare system.”

For the U.S. to lead in space, we need a force that is built around understanding and defending space.

When the armed forces are forced to choose between space and their area of operations, they naturally prioritize what they are organized to do. Air Force funding for aircraft procurement and space procurement declined by one third each from FY 2010 to FY 2014. Once the defense budget started to grow back, however, Air Force aircraft procurement rebounded by more than fifty percent—but space procurement continued to decline by another seventeen percent. According to Carl Builder, author of the Masks of War, “the most powerful institutions in the American national security arena are the military services,” and the problem we face is that there is no military branch that could advocate for space.

With the creation of a Space Force, the U.S. can consolidate all the authority and responsibility for space under one roof. According to a 2016 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, there are more than 60 different organizations in both the Department of Defense (DOD) and the intelligence agencies responsible for space assets. More than eighty percent of the DOD’s unclassified space funding goes to the Air Force, but several key components reside in the Army and Navy. At the same time, classified space funding for the Military Intelligence Program budget may rival that of the Air Force’s unclassified space funding.

The Pentagon’s main authority is in controlling the budget, but because the space budget is split across different organizations, this authority is compromised. The lack of centralized leadership has led to slow decision making, an inability to unify in efforts in improving space capabilities, and a lack of accountability when space programs went over budget or fell behind schedule. Because of this, U.S. space capabilities have suffered from  “delayed and diminished capabilities for commanders, warfighters, and others.”

Also, given its scattered organizational structure, the workforce has little to offer to the small number of people involved in space security terms of career growth. Most faced reassignment in and out of space assignments every four years, limiting their ability to develop expertise. According to the 2008 Allard Commission, it is “exceptional for an Air Force Officer to remain in a space assignment for more than two years without an adverse impact on his or her career.”

With the 2020 NDAA, the Space Force would fall within the jurisdiction of the Department of the Air Force, but after one year, it will have its own representation on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It will elevate existing military missions in space from the Air Force, Army, and Navy. It will create a more unified chain of command that is responsible for space. A cohesive group of space professionals will develop space-centric strategy, doctrine, and policy; they will remove the conflicts of interest that have led space programs to stagnate in other services.

The time to improve America’s standing in space is now. The creation of the Space Force makes space an important and prioritized area of operations, just as much as the sea, air, or land. Space is already an essential part of the American economy, military, and way of life. In the future, space will even be more important to us. In order for the U.S. to be competitive and stay ahead in space, the US Space Force is needed.

Written By

Mark Everette is a political commentator.

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