Trump’s focus has generated an unusual level of talk about space, but with little clarity.
“At the moment, there is no concrete proposal on the table for what a Space Force will look like or what it will do,” said Brian Weeden, an Air Force veteran who is director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation, which promotes peaceful uses of outer space. “It’s just sort of a notional concept.”
Weeden points out that creating a new service would not address what is generally seen as a need for a more coherent force to defend U.S. interests in space, since by law a service recruits, trains and equips troops but does not do combat. That is why a Space Command is being considered, since it would be the combat arm for space much as Central Command is the organization responsible for combat operations in the Middle East.
Aside from the organizational issues, the Pentagon’s role in space is under scrutiny because of a recognition that the United States is increasingly reliant on satellites that are difficult to protect in space. Satellites provide communications, navigation, intelligence and other services vital to the military and the economy. Whereas space has long been America’s technological edge, it is increasingly seen as its Achilles’ heel.
War in space is not just Hollywood fiction. The U.S. intelligence agencies reported earlier this year that Russia and China are pursuing “non-destructive and destructive” anti-satellite weapons for use during a future war.
A related problem that the Pentagon has struggled to address is the sluggish pace of developing and acquiring satellites through the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, which could be replaced by a new space development agency.
In an interim report to Congress in March on ways to reorganize its space organizations, the Pentagon said it is making changes to “ensure that we are prepared for” potential conflicts in space. This includes making satellites more resilient to potential attack by Russia or China.
Deborah James, who was the civilian leader of the Air Force for the final three years of the Obama administration, said at a think-tank forum Monday that creating a separate Space Force does not address the legitimate concerns about U.S. space defences. One of the criticisms of the Air Force, which is the primary service responsible for military satellites, is that it devotes too little money and attention to space.
“If money is your issue, Space Force is not your answer,” she said. If the logic of creating a separate space service were applied broadly, she said, it would imply other radical changes such as creating a single nuclear service by combining management of the strategic nuclear weapons of the Air Force and Navy, which no one is considering.