Two Birds, One Stone
The United States Space Force is a neat idea as it solves two broad structural problems within the US military apparatus at the same time. Firstly, it reorganizes and centralizes US military portfolios relating to space superiority. These portfolios were previously split into a number of branches and agencies, including the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Navy, and the Geospatial Intelligence Agency. It gives the US military a branch responsible for all things related to space security, sovereignty, and information collection and dissemination. This solution can prevent further chaos among the branches and intelligence agencies.
Secondly, the US Space Force allows the US military to catch up to its enemies and competitors in the space and cyber realm. Analysts point to China and Russia as being the leaders on space and cyber security and intelligence, two realms of military and intelligence affairs that will prove crucial to the US global military mission in ensuing decades. Both China and Russia have had Space Forces as autonomous military branches since 2015, with the United States creating its Space Force only in 2018.
The Space Force was formed on June 18, 2018, by way of a directive signed by former President Donald Trump. Initially, the Space Force fell under the leadership of General Jay Raymond, who was then Commander of the US Space Command and a decorated General in the Air Force. On February 19, 2019, the Space Force was then placed under the purview of the Air Force. A few months later, the Department of the Space Force was announced, creating a new independent branch. This was all done during President Trump’s tenure, which pushed many to mock the new branch, calling it “a joke,” “ridiculous,” “silly,” and a “misfire.”
Yet, this initiative was not the first attempt by the US government to develop its military and intelligence capabilities in space. In 1985, the US Space Command was founded under President Ronald Reagan. The National Space Council was then established four years later under President H. W. Bush, and both organizations were dismantled, then recreated in 2019. Other smaller organizations within the US military and intelligence structures with mandates relating to space operations were also created, including the US Strategic Command in 1992, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in 1996, the Army Space and Missile Defense Command in 1997, and the National Space Defense Center in 2015. All of their mandates are now unified under the Department of the Space Force.
Trump was certainly not the first President to think of dedicating military resources to American space superiority. During the Cold War, President Eisenhower launched the International Geophysical Year project of 1957-58, aimed at developing scientific and ballistic military satellite programs in space. In 1978, President Carter also signed a declaration establishing the need for the US to protect space and satellite systems, as they would be vital to US national security. The directive also established the right for American self-defence in space. Finally, President Reagan infamously introduced his Strategic Defense Initiative, which aimed to place ballistic missile and laser defence systems in space to defend satellite and ground assets. Moreover, most space military security centres and personnel were already concentrated in Colorado Springs, including the operations of the organizations listed in the above paragraph. The Space Force was another bold and logical step in a long series of policies and developments in US military space security.
Still, this is an incredibly opportune time to expand space exploration and military operations. The number of satellites in space continues to grow at a near-exponential rate, and the US, China, and Russia are competing for space dominance. As a New Cold War has begun between these great powers and their regional blocs, space will prove to be a crucially important frontier for national and international security interests. This endeavour comes as the US and its allies are growing increasingly concerned with Russian and Chinese interests in space. The Space Force therefore answers these timely issues.
Great Power Competition
Circling back to my first point, the Space Force solves a number of important problems. Following the principles established by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the Space Force protects our satellites from attacks from China, Russia, and a number of enemy state, and possibly non-state actors in space. To that point, Russia pursued its first space missile test on July 15, 2020, causing great concern in the West. Russia and China, as detailed by the US military and intelligence community, are already developing technologies and capabilities to interfere with other countries’ satellites, including the US. As stated by former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, the Space Force will protect satellites from jamming and cyber attacks, as well as increase the US government’s capacity to detect attacks and weapons of all types, both in space and on the ground.
Science and Technology
Moreover, the US military and, by extension, the Space Force has been associated with world-leading technological and scientific advancements throughout the past several decades. In the new omnibus DOD spending package passed for fiscal year 2021, $10.5 billion was dedicated to Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation (RDT&E). This represents more than half of the Space Force’s yearly budget, and nearly half of NASA’s budget. Among other advancements, the US military has helped develop digital cameras, drones, weather radars, GPS, computers, and, of course, the Internet. It has also helped us get to space, and space exploration has helped fulfill our boundless curiosity and influence our understanding of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and geology, all of which shape our daily lives. Without functioning satellites, we would not have the Internet, radio systems, GPS, and weather radar systems. The Space Force will protect these technologies and develop them.
Enhancing our weather radar systems will help us prevent, fight, and react to climate change, one of the greatest security threats of our time. Previous RDT&E investments for space military affairs have given our “first glimpse of planet Earth” and technologies such as “climate-monitoring satellites, hurricane warning, precision farming, and broadband for underserved rural communities,” among other achievements. The Space Force will only add to this list; it has already implemented programs to tackle climate change and global poverty, including the “Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstration and Research Program” (SSPIDR), run jointly with the Air Force. To accomplish its goals, the Space Force will train and use the best and brightest young graduates, scientists, engineers, and analysts, providing thousands of jobs during an ongoing economic recession. The current Space Force budget supports over 180,000 jobs.
Recap of the Benefits
Despite its comedic appearance, the Space Force will prove to be a crucially important safeguard of national and global security interests. It will protect us from state and non-state threats for generations to come, including rogue states, political instability, climate change, and poverty. The Space Force will also improve our standards of living and help develop technologies, and capabilities, that will radically shape the quality of our future socio-economic circumstances. Fortunately, it is here to stay.