Space Force picture, an independent military branch by 2020. The move is designed to counter the weapons that China and Russia have already developed that threaten U.S. satellites. The U.S. Vice President quickly assured that the force did not and would not be created from the ground up, but would leverage the personnel and material resources already existing in the service elements. The goal is to streamline efforts and maximize efficiency, a noble endeavor given the difficulties that invariable arise when mission responsibilities traverse and overlap so many different organizations.
The protection of U.S. civilian and military space assets are considered a national security concern. In December 2017, U.S. Department of Defense officials expressed concern that the United States’ anti-satellite capabilities were not up to par as some of its adversaries. In contrast, adversary adoption of anti-satellite weapons been documented in the news. In April 2018, a report detailing global counterspace capabilities (that include direct ascent weapons, co-orbital, directed energy, electronic warfare, and cyber warfare) underscores how adversarial nations are actively pursuing the development of such weapons and the threat that they pose to U.S. space interests. The report reveals that such investment by these states started in the mid-2000s.
Take into consideration the Global Positioning System (GPS). A break-through technology has caused perhaps an over-reliance on GPS to our detriment. The military and civilian sectors rely on satellites for a variety of purposes that support communication, navigation, weather, tracking movement, precision weapon deployment, and the conducting of surreptitious surveillance.
Unsurprisingly, there is much criticism being applied to the force. Some see the Space Force as a frivolous symbolic demonstration of U.S. power; others see the capability already existing in the Air Force’s Space Command; and still others stress the need for a cyber force instead (even after the elevation of U.S. Cyber Command to a fully functional combatant command). What all of these criticisms have in common is that they don’t see the need for organizing U.S. space capabilities to better prepare for the threats that exist now, or more importantly, those that are coming down the road. This sort of thinking has traditionally impacted readiness in terrorism and cyberspace.
Having aggressive acts move to space should not come as a surprise to the doubters. Few thought that cyberspace would be exploited to the degree that it is now, as evidenced by how advancements in IT has evolved without security considerations being built into the technology. And now our reality is to perpetually play catch-up in security our cyber postures, an endeavor seemingly so insurmountable that there is increasing preference to commit to using offensive cyber activity as a first line of defense and as a deterrent. It is obvious that no one prepared well for how cyberspace could and did evolve.
Now apply that school of thought to space. As states continue to develop counterspace capabilities, is it really so foolhardy to aggressively position the United States with a dedicated body to monitor and track current and future threats? It took Cyber Command nearly a decade to become operational and staffed, truly cringe-worthy considering the speed with which attacks happen in the digital domain. Would we want to repeat the same mistakes with space?
A Space Force needs to be established in the right way. Thus far, as evidenced in the remarks made by the Vice President, consolidation and developing specific and non-overlapping roles and responsibilities is essential to ensuring that mission objectives are clear and how multiple parts work together to ensure that every goal is met. Current stakeholders must all be brought under one roof. There can’t be a space-dedicated office or entity in every major government body.
Anything short of that risks making another unnecessary bureaucratic entity in an over-bloated ecosystem.
Moreover, establishing a Space Force sends a message to our enterprising adversaries that demonstrates U.S. resolve not to be caught behind the proverbial eight-ball again. The U.S. has the capability, material/financial/personnel resources to ensure its right to operate in space without interference. That is important especially in the context of Russian election meddling, troll farms, and suspected Russian hacking critical infrastructures. Critics have pointed out that the U.S. has not done enough in cyber space to demonstrate our resolve in not allowing unacceptable behavior to transpire.
But the U.S. doesn’t necessarily have to kinetically or non-kinetically strike an adversary to make the intended outcome. The White House may benefit by taking a play from former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. In the height of its nuclear arms race with the Soviets in the 1980s, the United States embarked on developing its Strategic Defense Initiative – the “Star Wars” missile defense program. Star Wars was designed to protect the United States from attack by ballistic strategic nuclear weapons. Competition to keep up with the United States proved too difficult, forcing Russia to offer to shrink its nuclear arsenal in exchange or Star Wars’ cancellation.
Is this the game plan now? Perhaps. The U.S. economy is strong while Russia’s has been stagnant and China’s is cooling as investment growth hits a record low. Or it could just be the United States planning for the future. Either way, a gambit is being played. And now that the Space Force is official, the players are taking notice trying to figure out their next move.
This is a guest post by Emilio Iasiello