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Proposed Space Force Would Pull Expertise From All Service Branches

Team Vandenberg supported the successful launch of the fifth Iridium mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California on March 30, 2018. US Air Force Photo

The White House’s proposed military Space Force would likely rely heavily on existing personnel from inside the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Army, plus a host of other intelligence agencies, experts told USNI News on Monday.

The Space Force was announced by President Trump on Monday. Trump’s directive doesn’t provide mission specifics, but the language suggests the Space Force would be charged with protecting both commercial and government assets in space.

“As space becomes increasingly contested, the demand for the Department of Defense to focus on protecting U.S. space assets and interests also increases. At the same time, the rapid commercialization of space requires a traffic management framework that protects U.S. interests and considers the private sector’s needs,” the directive reads.

But before the proposed sixth branch of the military is formed, Congress needs to approve legislation and the Department of Defense would have to iron out the fine details, according to a Monday afternoon statement from Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White.

“We understand the President’s guidance,” she said. “Our policy board will begin working on this issue, which has implications for intelligence operations for the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy. Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.”

The Pentagon also has to do the homework of creating Space Force theory, doctrine and strategy, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Power Studies, told USNI News on Monday.

“Creation of an independent Space Force may be the future, but right now it’s premature,” Deptula said.

The last time an independent service branch was created was when the Air Force was split off from the Army after World War II in 1947. By the time the Air Force was created, its leadership had spent two decades between WWI and WWII developing an air power strategy and new technology. During WWII, the then-Army Air Corps continued to refine and implement strategy and technology.

Today with space, developing military strategy hasn’t hasn’t happened to the same degree, Deptula said. As for the technology required for a Space Force to be effective, it’s still very much in the developmental phase.

“I’m all for missile defense using directed energy weapons in space to take out ballistic missiles,” Deptula said. “It’s a great idea, but we’re not there yet.”

Military planners likely have some time to develop the Space Force theory, doctrine, and strategy, since Congress doesn’t appear close to approving the branch, Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told USNI News.

“To really create a Space Force you need legislation, and the legislation appears stalled,” Clark said.

At the pace Congress operates, Clark said it’s unlikely that anything more than a broad proposal could be approved this year, and that might be a stretch. At best, he said the soonest legislation could be approved creating the new branch would be in 2019.

If passed, Congress would likely leave the organizational details for the Pentagon to iron out. Maybe some new flag officer billets would be created by legislation, but their job descriptions would probably be developed at the Pentagon. Even determining the rank structure — a Navy/Coast Guard model using admirals, or an Army/Air Force model using generals — would come from the Pentagon, Clark said.

The process used by the Department of Defense to establish U.S. Cyber Command provides a possible model, Clark said. Each service branch has cyber experts, and they were pulled together to form the new command. A new Space Force would likely do something similar, pulling in personnel from jobs with an existing space focus.

“Appropriators [in Congress] would decide how much money, and the Department of Defense would decide what duties would be moved to Space Force,” Clark said.

Deptula thinks the Space Force will be created in the future, but he is not sure the Congress has the drive to create the force.

“We can’t even recapitalize the geriatric forces we have inside the Air Force, so where is this extra money going to come from?” Deptula said.

  • TheFightingIrish

    We don’t need a separate service to protect our space assets be they commercial or military. It might have made sense 60 years ago at the dawn of the space age, but not now.

  • Something that just makes sense. Space is becoming ever more accessible but it is an entirely foreign environment that is much too far down the priority lists of the existing branches (as demonstrated by the final line in the article). An independent advocate for space will result in a more robust and innovative use of the domain.

    • Duane

      Space isn’t a native environment for any human being. It is just another battlespace in which joint multi-domain forces already operate, and have been so operating since the Germans fielded the V2 rocket back in the 1940s.

      • The sea isn’t a native environment for any human being and people were operating there for centuries before a separate maritime branch was ever created – does that mean we should get rid of the Navy too? By your logic it’s just unnecessary administrative overhead that could be handled by the Army.

        • Duane

          Nice strawman there – not!

          I am not calling to eliminate a non existent space force, which you suggest that by my logic I would propose as a rationale to eliminate the Navy. I say that your justification for a space force, i.e., that space is different than earth, is a silly non-starter. There is nothing magical about space that differentiates it from any other battle domain, land, sea, or air that requires a unique new bureaucracy, any more than the air domain justified the creation in 1947 of an independent new stovepipe duplicative bureaucracy called the US Air Force. We’ve been operating in space for 70 some years now without a new buraucracy. We instead need to recombine the USAF with the USA. The Navy and Marines do great with combined air and surface domains, proving there was never a need to duplicate bureaucracies.

          • But what’s so special about land and sea that requires a separate Army and Navy, that isn’t equally as true for air and space?

            All four domains necessarily bleed into each other – that’s why we operate as a joint force. However, all four domains operate under their own unique logic. Just as a Admiral should not command armies and a general should not command fleets, neither should command air forces or constellations. The required patterns of strategic and tactical thought are just too different. Further, each domain needs a strong independent advocate so that its unique advantages are not ignored by those who are unfamiliar with them.

            While you raise the point of Navy and Marine air, both services operate their aircraft in direct support of, and as an integral part of, their naval and land forces and have never reached the level of strategic air power.

          • Duane

            Armies fight on and over land. Navies fight on, over and under the seas. The planet surface consists only of land and sea. Air and space are just the 3D space above the land and seas.

            If you don’t understand the fundamental differences between land warfare and naval warfare, then I am afraid there is nothing that can be done for you.

    • Danger_Dan

      Plenty of innovation happening at Blue Origin, Space-X, Stratolaunch, and Virgin Galactica. I doubt another behemoth bureaucracy will out innovate the billionaire space race that is currently underway.

      • All those companies are doing great things – but none of them are thinking about how to fight in and from space. After all, if civilian corporations were capable of doing that, we wouldn’t need an Army, Navy, or Air Force either.

        Also, a lot of what they are doing probably could have been done 50 years ago if there had been a behemoth bureaucracy pushing for the development of space instead of letting our space program collapse because the agencies tasked with running it decided they had more interesting things to do.

        • Danger_Dan

          Fair enough, but there were treaties blocking the militarization of space during the Cold War. I think we only tossed those aside during GWB’s administration — if I am not mistaken?
          As others in the string have noted, where does the money come from? We are looking at another $1T deficit this year with a booming economy. I’m no economist, but this is clearly not sustainable.

        • Centaurus

          I want a foil hat to protect me from the Nukular Aliens on the Border

  • James B.

    I don’t think a new service should be stood up, if for no other reason than how ugly the uniforms will undoubtedly be. The easy solution would be to elevate USAF Space Command in budgeting and organizational power, under the DoAF and technically under the Air Force, but quasi-independent, like the Army Air Force was.

    Also, the Air Force should be willing to trade away some of their tactical air and battlefield units to the Army, which would be a better home for them than letting the Air Force spread itself too thin.

  • waveshaper1

    IMHO, it might be cheaper/more logical if we just reverse course and make this new “Space Force” a Combatant Command once again. We can call this new Combatant Command “USSPACECOM” just like we did before it was absorbed into USSTRATECOM back in 2002. We already have 10 Geographic/Functional Combatant Commands so why not just add one more or eliminate one or change the cap on the number of Combatant Commands? Currently the Unified Command Plan directs that Unified Combatant Commands be capped at 10, and with the formation of any new Combatant Command, one would have to be deactivated (this is what happened to the original USSPACECOM/it was USSPACECOM versus USNORTHCOM for spot #10 and USNORTHCOM won).

    • John Locke

      Because Trump is all about appearing like a tough guy and USSPACECOM doesn’t sound as butch as Space Force.

      • Fred Gould

        And he needs another military branch flag for photo ops

  • Centaurus

    Lets clean-up the trash-in LEO before ass-hats of the trumpian epoch learn to speak.

    • pcb123

      What? Write plainly.

      • Ed L

        Low earth orbit = LEO. The other stuff was political

        • pcb123

          Thank you.

          • Ed L

            It’s right up there with the Navy confusing army quartermasters with navy quartermasters

      • Centaurus

        Umm surry…muh knuckles wazz draggin and m’foot in mouth. You stoopid too. uh-hu-ug-huh….WHEEEEE

      • Centaurus

        You must have no brain.

    • disqus_QiVYNk1Omi

      I gave a logical drone option at an Air Force Base to remove space debris and the response was “That would take a lot of systems engineering and our people are busy” I asked what are they busy doing?

  • John Locke

    “As space becomes increasingly contested….” <<<< now THAT is funny!!

    Trump is going to have his base thinking that the universe is getting full.

    • Fred Gould

      He watched Starship Troopers

  • Duane

    It’s not gonna be. Congress has considered and rejected the concept multiple times.

    Creating a new space force is exactly the opposite of what we should do. We need to correct the error of 1947 that extracted the Air Force out of the Army, which bloated the command structures, created stupid stove pipes, and dis-aggregated the forces when combined forces working jointly via networking is how 21st century warfare succeeds.

  • John Locke

    Just rename Joint Functional Component Command for Space to Space Force.

  • Ed L

    I remember reading about our Airforce work on lifting bodies in the 50’s. The Airforce still does there own launches as well and has a robotic space plane. Back then the air force were not far from having a true space plane that would have been able to make it into orbit

  • DaSaint

    And how do we get there? Oh yeah, we ask the Russians permission!


    And don’t tell me about Orion or SpaceX. Well maybe SpaceX.

    • Don’t you think that an independent space force would probably be a strong advocate for restoring our manned spaceflight capability?

      • DaSaint

        I would hope that we wouldn’t still be in a situation where we needed advocacy for restoring a US manned spaceflight capability by the time a space force is constituted and operationalized!

        IMO, shutting down the Space Shuttle program prior to a replacement being operationalized was a mistake, but NASA knows far more than I do. That said, it’s embarrassing that we are in a situation where even if the Russians pass us off, we have to play nice to get our astronauts down from orbit, or risk not being able to get there. That’s probably one of the many reasons POTUS is so chummy with them.

  • ddsmpret

    Don’t forget NASA and what it could bring to this new Command.

  • James Bowen

    I don’t think this is a good idea. The existing DoD administrative infrastructure is more than adequate to cover our defense activities in space. We need to be reducing administrative overhead, not increasing it. I would go as far as to say the Army and Air Force Departments should be merged into a single War Department, the Coast Guard should be permanently put under the Navy Department, and the rest of Homeland Security should be put under DoD. With the exception of STRATCOM, all of the other unified combatant commands should be dissolved too.

    As for our defense activities in space, at present they are mostly confined to Earth orbit, which is well covered by STRATCOM. Any future voyages beyond Earth orbit is an assignment that the Navy is well organized for.

  • Secundius

    Let’s GUT the US. Military even more. We can “Barely” Man what we have, and the President what to form another Command by transferring Talented People from existing Force Structure of the current US. Military…

  • TheSearchers

    Whatever your personal opinions are on this matter you have to admit, there is a whole lot of money tied up in those satellites…

  • Danger_Dan

    With the rapid progress the EPA is making in pouring Drano down the Earth’s throat, we’ll soon need a Space Force to lead us to our new home on another planet.

  • muzzleloader

    There have been attempts to heavily factor the military into space before. In the early 1960’s there was the MOL, or manned orbiting laboratory. It was an air force program which used the Gemini space craft along with a modified Titan booster that would have been converted into manned orbiting outpost.
    It would have been used as basically an orbiting spy outpost. Fourteen air force officers were chosen for training, and a considerable amount of money was spent in development and training.
    The program was cancelled when it was realized that recon satellites could do the job just as well.
    When the Space Shuttle was being developed, a shuttle launch facility was built at Vandenberg air force base in California. The Pentagon had plans to launch shuttles from Vandenberg so as to be able to fly into polar orbits where much of the classified satellites were stationed. The shuttles would have had all military crews of course.
    The explosion and loss of Challenger in Jan 1986 caused the Pentagon to rethink, and the Vandenberg project was shuttered.( After spending almost $3 billion.)
    So we have been here before. Wether actually starting an entirely new branch of the armed forces is the answer is questionable given the fiscal environment. Perhaps US space command could be recommissioned.
    With the rise of China’s military and technological prowess, I agree that the US needs to maintain it’s edge where technology could be exported for military dominance in space.