Space Force, Part 2: Missions

I have to admit I’m fascinated by this proposed Space Force, even if I can’t join it. (Seriously, you guys can make a space suit small enough for a weasel if you would just put your mind to it) There will be a lot of posts about the Space Force in the near future. Here I speculate on the military missions that would (or could) be assigned to the new US Space Force. To start, let’s look at what the US services and DoD agencies do in space today. The Air Force provides satellite communication to the services, with Army and Navy support. It provides weather observation from satellites, with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The users for these space functions are all the US services, and other government customers. Notably, the Air Force provides precision navigation and timing, not just to all the services and government, but also to the entire world. I’m talking about Global Positioning System (GPS), which many people do not realize is a US Air Force weapon system. Simply stated, your smart phone knows where it is because the Air Force wanted to help bombers get to their targets in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The Air Force also provides space launch to put satellites in orbit, and surveillance of space to make sure the US knows what is up there and where it’s going.  The Army has liaison teams (space support teams and others) that bring space expertise to Army and other service deployed headquarters.

And then there are reconnaissance (“spy”) satellites. These are run by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which works for both DoD and the Intelligence Community. Many people at NRO wear the uniform of the Air Force or Navy, and some are civilians loaned to NRO from Air Force, Navy, or DoD intelligence agencies.

The Air Force provides missile warning, so the US will know if a missile attack is coming to us from Russia, China, or elsewhere. Inbound missiles would be shot down by a US Army system developed by the Missile Defense Agency of DoD.

And since we are talking about missile defense, what about our missiles? Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) fly in arcs that reach well outside of the atmosphere, but not quite to orbit. Many early space launch vehicles that put satellites, plus humans and animals (no weasels yet…) into orbit were based on designs for ballistic missiles (Thor, Atlas, Titan, etc.). So what’s the difference between a space launch vehicle and an ICBM? Not much. Clearly, an ICBM (an exo-atmospheric, sub-orbital launch vehicle) is much more of a space system than an air system.

To fully capture all these space missions, the US Space Force should take over communications via space, space-based weather observation, space-based precision navigation and timing, satellite reconnaissance, missile warning and defense, and missile offense via ICBM systems.  The US President seems like a ‘go big or go home’ kind of guy, so we may see this kind of maximal US Space Force formed soon.

What we won’t see in the US Space Force is spaceships full of people cruising the space lanes between planets.  We won’t see space bases in orbit or on the moon, at least any time soon.  (Please note: air bases are not in the air, so space bases will not be in space.  They will be in Colorado.). We won’t have a Space Navy, Space Marines, Mobile Infantry dropping down from orbit, Starfleet, a Death Star, or Jedi Knights.  Our adversaries are on the Earth, so the focus of Space Force will be the space around Earth.




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