Space Force, Part 9: Recent News and Commentary



Bob Zubrin knows space.  He comments here that the US needs a robust, orbiting counter-space capability (that he calls a space fighter) to defend US satellites from enemy anti-satellite capabilities.  He is, of course, correct.  Also, from the article:

Zubrin argues that if the Axis powers had merely had reconnaissance satellites during World War II, and the Allies had no space-based assets, then the Battle of the Atlantic would have gone to the U-boats and Britain would ultimately have fallen. The U.S. would have lost the Battle of Midway and the Japanese would have destroyed what remained of the U.S. Navy after Pearl Harbor, he writes. This one element of space power, notes Zubrin, would have been enough to win the war.

We should protect our vital space assets before we lose the next major-power war (with China or Russia).  Zubrin is clear-headed on this subject, as on others.  He has closely followed space flight and been a thoughtful critic of NASA.  I might have to buy his book.

Another commenter, Dave Deptula (Lieutenant General USAF, Retired), says a lot of smart things about Space Force but leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

First, the entire national security space community must transition from viewing space as a sanctuary to space as a warfighting domain; and second, the current cadre of space operators must transition from providing support for warfighters inside the atmosphere to also fighting in, from and through space as warfighters themselves.

Why is it that the space community views space as a sanctuary?  When China destroyed one of its satellites on-orbit in 2007, a lot of us who were knowledgeable about space, but not in the space community, were quite concerned.  We knew an event like this was coming some day, and there it was.  If anyone thought space was a sanctuary, it was the Air Force budgeters and planners who could not conceive of an appropriate response to China’s demonstrated (and messy) capability.  To be fair, Deptula discusses the Chinese ASAT test later in the article, and hints that something has been happening behind the scenes. That’s nice, if it’s real, but twelve years after the Chinese demonstrated a satellite-killer, the US has not stated whether we have a counter to it.  A bit of bragging about our defensive capabilities now might make the Chinese think twice about using their offensive systems in the near future.  Or, if we really don’t have this capability, why not?

Deptula wants the Air Force let off the hook for any neglect of space warfighting.  He blames national policy.

Contrary to those who like to portray the Air Force as the culprit of this sad state of affairs, we are where we are today not because of Air Force neglect, but because of a self-limiting U.S. national space policy with respect to military operations in space.

I’m not buying it.  NSPD-49 says DoD shall “Develop capabilities, plans, and options to ensure freedom of action in space, and, if directed, deny such freedom of action to adversaries”.  That was policy in 2006, and it got very urgent (as discussed) in 2007.  Where are the capabilities?  Was there maybe an “executive agent for space” who should have developed them?  Because Wikipedia says the Air Force is the DoD Executive Agent for Space, and “shall develop, coordinate, and integrate plans and programs for space systems and the acquisition of DoD Space Major Defense Acquisition Programs to provide operational space force capabilities to ensure the United States has the space power to achieve its national security objectives.”  One of these objectives, per NSPS-49, was to “Develop capabilities … to ensure freedom of action in space”, as noted above.  So don’t blame national policy when the problem was Air Force policy.  That’s why we need to get space out of Air Force.

Deptula says we need these things before we should create a Space Force

  • Adequate numbers of personnel trained specifically for the conduct of warfighting in and from space
  • Consolidation of the bulk of U.S. military organizations with roles in space
  • Weaponized space capability and development of matured space warfare theory, doctrine, and concepts of operation
  • Sufficient resources to enable the entire spectrum of required military activities in space

Right away, let me say that his second bullet, ‘consolidation of the bulk’ is the creation of the space force.  Consolidating the bulk seems to me like bringing everything together into one organization.  Once we consolidate all those space organizations into one, what do we have?  A Space Force!  It would still need work at that point, but consolidating is much of what our President and others have been requesting.

The other three bullets are things that could be done today by the service that has most of the space budget, personnel, mission, etc.  Space operations officers can be developed today as warfighters, in parallel with development of space weapons.  There’s no need for a chicken-or-egg argument.  There is a need to do something, learn from it, and get better.  They all could have been done twenty years ago by that same organization if it was not so neglectful.  That organization would be, you guessed it, the US Air Force.  Which is more reason why Space Force should be separate from Air Force.

Fundamentally, the Air Force is not, and cannot be, serious about space as a warfighting domain.  The service, as a matter of practice, does a great job at a small scope of things, and drops the ball on everything else.  The Air Force, born alongside nuclear weapons, has to be beat around the head and shoulders to remind it to take nuclear weapons seriously.  The Air Force, fighting a counter-insurgency war and flying the wings off of airplanes designed for conventional war, has slow-rolled development of a counter-insurgency aircraft.  The need has been there since about 2004, but they are still evaluating alternatives in 2019.  It’s embarrassing.  It’s as if all of our leaders, and their staffs, have tunnel vision.  The problem is so widespread and so long-standing that it must be a cultural problem.  The Air Force is not ready prioritize space, because it’s not ready to prioritize anything other than the handful of things that the fighter pilot leaders and staff officers think are important.  The right answer is to take some things off their plate.  Let space thrive outside the Air Force, because the US needs capabilities that will not thrive inside the Air Force.



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