Space Force, Part 8: An initial step

I had predicted a full-scope Space Force under its own secretary, with responsibility for (mostly) every military mission in and through space, especially the key (and under-developed) responsibility to protect US military and commercial satellites from enemy action.  It looked like much of that was on offer, but then came an inflated price tag followed by a much lower one.  Congress didn’t jump aboard.  Now, we are looking at a Space Corps under the Department of the Air Force, doing many (but not all) of the space missions conducted by the Air Force.

I think this is an interim step that will not provide the desired level of space dominance.  What we’re doing now is a compromise solution, in which Air Force still keeps control via the Secretary, to create a limited-scope space service.  Space Corps will take over military space (MilSpace) missions not including space intelligence, missile offense (through space) , or missile defense (in space).  Continued separation of space intelligence (and the many satellites and ground stations of National Reconnaissance Office, NRO) from other military space breeds inefficiencies and creates seams.  To have synergy in space development and space operations, and to ensure lessons learned by one are available to the other, NRO needs to merge into Space Force.  Missile defense relies on space-based warning, and thus needs closer integration with the rest of
MilSpace.  The Air Force believes (deeply but unofficially) that missile offense is logically and physically a space function, as the Air Force has shown by attempts to merge space and missile organizations and career fields over the years.  It has been common for space officers to take a career broadening tour in missiles, and vice versa.  Try finding a pilot who did a career broadening tour in missiles, or vice versa.  ICBMs are in fact suborbital space launch vehicles.  They are MilSpace.

Instead of a separate service under its own secretary, the space service will be a corps under the Secretary of the Air Force, so the space budget may still be drained to meet air priorities, as is common today.  A separate secretary and budget are needed to allow the space service to set its own budgetary priorities, and to pursue new capabilities.

Space Corps will include space operations and probably space logistics personnel. It will not (at this time) include base support and medical, so Air Force will provide those capabilities.  Compare the early years of the US Air Force, when the Army provided many non-flying support roles until the Air Force could establish them for itself.  This relationship worked for a few years, but had its problems.  Strategic Air Command (SAC) deputy commanding general Clements McMullen wanted the new Air Force to just have aircrew, like the Army Air Corps did.  He somehow didn’t notice that the Air Corps had to be supplemented by other parts of the Army to form the Army Air Forces in World War Two.  It’s as if he slept through the war.  Airplanes and aircrews were obviously not enough to make an Air Force, but there was still an Air Force leader (who really ran SAC for a couple of years) deliberately mistreating non-flying officers because they didn’t fit his (inadequate, flawed) vision of a service.*  Space Force will need its own bases and support personnel to ensure that space leaders appreciate and understand their base support, to ensure the needed support is actually provided, and to remove Air Force leverage.  In the early days of the Air Force, the ‘Hobson Plan’ reorganization put flyers in charge of bases, so they could ensure the proper support to flying operations.  Something similar will be needed by the Space Corps as it transitions  into a Space Force.  Once Space Force owns its own base support and medical personnel, it would have to provide them in a ‘fair share’ arrangement to reinforce deployments around the world by other services.

* Mitchell Vance O., Air force Officers: Personnel Policy Development 1944-1974, p67-71.

And in other Space Force news:

This excellent video by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) discusses why we need a Space Force.  General Ronald Fogleman, former Chief of Staff of the USAF, (around 13:52) agrees with the Doctor Weasel position that space intelligence (NRO) needs to be part of a space service.

Support seems to be growing in Congress for some kind of space service.  Missile defense was mentioned, including space-based interceptors, without making the logical tie-in that missile defense is a space function belonging in a space service.  Other news about Congress and Space.

Growing Chinese space capability has us and our allies concerned.

Secretary Mattis said “Space Force would have both defensive and offensive missions” in an article about overall (civil and military) US leadership in space.  Was he considering missile offense (ICBMs) as part of a Space Force?  Or something new (based on an old concept), like ‘rods from God‘?

Lawmakers have questioned why the Pentagon needs both a Space Force and a Space Command.’  That’s because they have different functions.  Space Command would conduct operations today, while Space Force would organize, train, and equip forces to conduct space operations today and in the future.  Same as all the other services and all the other commands.  I don’t see them asking why we need a Space Command and a Space Development Agency, but it’s a closely related question.

New technology allows groups of smaller satellites to act optically as one big one.  Will this give more countries access to satellite imagery?   Will it drive a need for the Space Force to disable swarms of smaller foreign satellites in orbit?  Can they be disabled without creating additional orbiting debris?



7 thoughts on “Space Force, Part 8: An initial step

  1. I generally agree with you, except the missile field is not any sort of career path for an officer: And hasn’t been since the early 19890’s. It’s a very junior officer intensive, very sharply sloped pyramid, lots of O1-O3’s needed to wait in the silos, and damned few O5/O6s needed to manage them.


  2. There was a recent move to put more senior officers in missiles, thinking that would improve the career field overall. Not sure where that’s going. It would be interesting to see how that works out.


  3. A flight commander position (responsible for what, 10 launch crews? Hell, call it 40 launch crews or 80 people) is still not much of a role for an O-5….. And each squadron/group/wing only needs 1 chief of stan/eval….


  4. I read that each squadron has two O-5 now (CC, DO) and no O-4. I was thinking majors as flight commanders and squadron training, stan/eval, etc. Not sure if AF is thinking the same. Anyway, the missile career field has issues and the AF thinks an influx of more experience officers would help. I hope the folks who get dragged into this at the O-4/O-5 level don’t get screwed. From what I heard about missiles (mostly from a co-worker space operator who did a missiles tour) there’s a lot more fixing needed.


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