May the (Space) Force Be With You
"It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space; we must have American dominance in space."
As far as the Trump administration is concerned, the Force — Space Force, that is — definitely will be with us. That’s the news from Vice President Mike Pence at his recent Pentagon address, where he observed, “As President [Donald] Trump has said, ‘It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space; we must have American dominance in space.’ And so we will.” Pence went on to note, “The space environment has fundamentally changed in the last generation. What was once peaceful and uncontested is now crowded and adversarial. Today, other nations are seeking to disrupt our space-based systems and challenge American supremacy in space as never before. As their actions make clear, our adversaries have transformed space into a war-fighting domain already.” Indeed they have.
Space as a potential battleground is an idea whose time has more than come, especially with the very recent rise of space as an increasingly contested arena. China and Russia, particularly, view space as the Achilles’ Heel to U.S. military power — and rightfully so. The world’s highest-tech military force intentionally leverages U.S. space assets to provide asymmetric capabilities our adversaries cannot match. Until the last decade, our freedom to operate in space was rarely challenged. But with China’s increasingly aggressive drive toward regional — if not global — hegemony, as well as Russia’s chest-thumping provocations, both have shown that while they may not match U.S. space capabilities, they certainly plan to deny them to us.
We note in passing that, contrary to incorrect media claims otherwise, no space treaty limits conventional weapons in space, nor does any agreement limit use of space as a war-fighting domain, though the Outer Space Treaty does ban nuclear weapons (and other “weapons of mass destruction”). Thus President Trump is not “weaponizing” space: Space is simply another domain within which sufficiently advanced nations operate to achieve military advantage over their adversaries. That includes the U.S., of course, but also its adversaries. The Trump administration is simply and honestly acknowledging this fact, along with a commitment not to sit idly by like some administrations have in the past while nations hostile to the U.S. continue to accelerate their space-militarization efforts.
Given these facts, many have recognized the need for an independent Space Force to meet these challenges. Such an independent, co-equal military branch must exist if we are to have space-power theorists analogous to airpower theorists like Mitchell, Douhet, Trenchard, and, more modernly, Boyd and Warden — none of whom would have had the substantial impacts they did without the existence of an independent Air Force. Air power as we know it would never have existed under the Army. Likewise so with space power, under the yoke of an Air Force whose primary mission vests in air-breathing machines, not those operating in a vacuum, in freefall around the Earth.
Finally, make no mistake: Standing up a new branch — especially a branch whose domain is inherently expensive to operate in — won’t be cheap. The ultimate question is whether the costs associated with so doing will be outweighed by the national security benefits this new branch will provide. The short answer to that question remains, “We’ll see.” Were we to place a bet, however, we’d bet on “Yes”: The dedication of the servicemen and women who will be tasked with fleshing out this new Service’s mission and vision — whatever these become — are very unlikely to let our nation down.