President Donald Trump announced in a recent speech that America must create a “Space Force” as the sixth branch of the military, which was full of star-studded visions, but very short on actual details. While the innovation of war will undoubtedly take the U.S. beyond Earth’s orbit, a new and separate military command “equal” to the U.S. Air Force, as Trump calls it, is not the way to go about it.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, symmetric, soldier-for-soldier battles in harvested cornfields on foreign soil is far behind us. The beginning of the Atomic Age showed that more lives can be saved using the threat of astronomical death counts as a deterrent for war, or what was later called: Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
Since then, more emphasis has been put on novel areas that pertain to war, but not previously utilized.
In the wake of the Soviet “Sputnik crisis” of 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing NASA, which accelerated its rocket-propelled, supersonic aircraft initiative precursor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The program was aimed at “peaceful” means of exploration and advancement, but we all know that it was created to fight the Russians without actually firing a shot.
The idea of the view of space as an extension of military power is not new. The U.S. already has a Space Command division of the Air Force, created by Ronald Reagan in 1982, dedicated to using space-based assets to aid its flights, its fights, and to win in air, space, and cyberspace. To scare the Russians even more, Reagan also introduced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), or “Star Wars” program, which was touted as futuristic, space-based ballistic missile interceptor program. Aside from the fact that it was technically impossible at the time, SDI played a role in advancing real-world, civilian applications.
Throughout the course of its existence, NASA, while some think its a waste of taxpayer dollars, has given the U.S. and the world at-large new technology like cell phones, microwaves, laser disc drives, plasma screen televisions, and countless other items through the fruits of its research and labor. Sometimes the government can spur developments in the private sector indirectly. For this, Trump’s announcement of a so-called “Space Force: is a good idea, but only if its marketed in a better way.
Currently, NASA’s FY 2019 budget projection of $19.9 billion represents less than one half of one percent of the entire federal budget, about one-third of all federal money spent on scientific research. This is basically par for the course when it comes to historical spending trends for the people who sent astronauts to the Moon with less tech than in most people’s pockets. So, considering NASA did great exploratory work and application research analysis with such a “small amount” of cash and resources compared to other government departments, what would they to with five or even ten times the money?
Well, the near future of warfare probably wouldn’t look anything like V-wing starfighters and Recusant-class light destroyers dueling in orbit during the Battle of Coruscant, but it could give the world new technology and engineering developments like space elevators, alternatives to chemical propulsion systems, better building materials, and so on. The private sector would benefit from such an investment. Philip Ragan, co-author of the book Leaving the Planet by Space Elevator, stated that the first nation to deploy a space elevator will have a, “95 percent cost advantage and could potentially control all space activities.”
What should be done to fulfill this “Space Force” idea is to put NASA under the arm of the Air Force, the second largest military service branch, which has a budget of approximately $156.3 billion. Such a development would allow for the proliferation of the brilliant minds of NASA with Defense Department money. After all, NASA was created as a way to battle emerging superpowers with science.
Doing so would allow for America to get back to the top when it comes to space activities. Currently, most rocketry work on Earth is done by the Russians from a barren area in southern Kazakhstan. As well, the more common Antares rockets the U.S. uses were built and designed by a joint venture between Russian and American companies. A booming budget for NASA would allow for a fully American space experience.
America is not alone in the quest for a military presence in space and the utilization thereof. All modern armies rely on space-based applications, such as satellites. For example, the “Blackbird” SR-71 spy plane, designed by the Skunkworks division deep inside Lockheed Martin, an aircraft that could outrun any ballistic weapon ever made, was dropped from production because real-time surveillance from satellites represented a cheaper, more effective avenue for information gathering. Innovations in military and defense applications are only taking the U.S. and the rest of the world beyond the upper atmosphere.
In The Art of War, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu alluded to this notion as fighting from an elevated position is said to be easier for a number of tactical reasons. Holding the high ground offers an elevated vantage point with a wide field of view, enabling surveillance of the surrounding landscape.
The world accepts the military use of outer space; however, it does not accept the unbridled militarization of space, as explicitly laid out in the 1967 U.N. Outer Space Treaty. The establishment of military bases and installations on celestial bodies, including asteroids is forbidden. Moreover, There is a complete ban on placing nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons in outer space or around the atmosphere of the earth. Though, there is a loophole within the treaty the does not specifically prevent placement of other types of weapons in space – for example, kinetic bombardment, or “Rods of God” as some call it.
Having a force in space is a great idea for many reasons, but probably the worst would be calling it “Space Force,” or “Star Fleet,” or “Army of the Galactic Republic.” Name aside, it is a necessary development in the evolution of military strategy.
The U.S. has always been very efficient when it comes to acting as the precipice of a crisis emerges. If the Russians, the Chinese, the North Koreans, even the French landed on Mars today, it would undoubtedly take the U.S. 11 months to get there: one month to build the craft and 10 months of travel time.