U.S. Space Force

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- In November 1998, Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire wrote, "If the Air Force cannot or will not embrace space power...we in congress will have to establish an entirely new service." What an idea--a separate space force. Consider the arguments for and against a U.S. space force that is separate from the U.S. Air Force.

Just as airpower advocates argue that air operations are fundamentally different than land or sea operations, spacepower advocates argue that space operations are fundamentally different than air operations. Both air and space systems provide elevation above the surface of the earth. Both lack natural barriers and allow three-dimensional motion within their expanses. Important differences exist however.

While both air and space allow forces to pass through them, physical laws alter how they do so. Air forces must take off and return to bases on the earth's surface; space forces can maintain their flight paths almost indefinitely without expending energy.

While flight through air is routine and affordable, space flight is expensive and technically challenging. Airspace is owned by sovereign states while space is not under any state's sovereignty. Air forces are highly maneuverable. They can choose the time, place, route, and direction of an attack.

By contrast, space forces have limited maneuverability and thus cannot easily make large changes in their flight paths. The differences are so substantial that space advocates justifiably argue that space should be a separate component of military forces, just as air, land and sea components are.

Another argument for a separate space force is that space power can only reach its full potential through independence, that is, being free from control by land, sea and air commanders, and led by space commanders possessing specialized expertise. An independent space force would have its own trained personnel, its own theory and doctrine, and its own budget. The logic is that as long as space must fight for funding within another service's budget, it will never receive the priority it is due.

However, some argue the military mission in space has not evolved sufficiently to warrant a separate military service. Congress established the Air Force only after airpower had achieved combat-tested technology, doctrine and leadership. While making important contributions to land, sea and air forces, military space capabilities are not an independent warfighting capability like airpower was in 1947. Space assets do not project force in space, in the air or on the battlefield. The reason is a lack of space weapons. Currently, no space weapons exist, and no nation appears to have the capability to field space-based weapons in the near future.

So how do we reconcile these opposing viewpoints?

Opponents of a separate space force argue that there's no need for an independent branch because there's no combat space mission.

That is true today, but may change in the future. The U.S. must develop adequate leadership, personnel and doctrine to create a solid foundation for a possible future space force. The Secretary of Defense has designated the Air Force the executive agent for space within the Department of Defense.

In addition, Air Force Space Command is the center for developing a space cadre and is advocating education and training for space professionals. At some point in the future, mankind likely will weaponize space and the U.S. will have to respond in kind to protect its space assets and the nation.

Once a space threat appears on the horizon, the U.S. will need to develop a force projection capability in space. At that point, space power will rise from theory to practice and there will be a compelling reason for a separate space force.