Recently, President Trump renewed the call for the establishment of a new branch of the U.S. military dedicated specifically to space defense. This “space force” already passed a vote in Congress as a part of their fiscal year 2018 defense budget, but was removed when that measure was reconciled with the Senate’s own budget legislation.
The idea has been the subject of debate among defense officials and lawmakers alike, with valid and important points raised on either side. The camp calling for a space-specific branch points out that the Air Force has not allotted sufficient authority or funding to its space command to make it effective amid ongoing combat operations that have taken priority over nearly two decades of ongoing combat operations.
That’s really my biggest frustration. We’ve heard Air Force leaders talk about the increasing threats we face in space and declare that space is a priority mission. Yet, when the rubber meets the road, we see space programs given a backseat behind other Air Force programs.” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said last month.
Those opposed, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, worry that the immense cost and effort associated with standing up an entirely new military branch would drain money and resources long before it could manage the battlespace.
Then there are many that fall somewhere between the two camps — concerned that they’re both probably right.
Russia and China, the two nations that pose the largest potential threat to America’s orbital infrastructure of satellites relied on for everything from navigation to communications, both already have space-specific military branches in operation, bolstering calls for America’s own. However, the Air Force isn’t ready to give up space as an area of responsibility without a fight.
Let there be no doubt, as the service responsible for 90 percent of the Department of Defense’s space architecture and the professional force with the sacred duty to defend it, we must and will embrace space superiority with the same passion and sense of ownership as we apply to air superiority today,” Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein, the branch’s chief of staff, said at the recent 34th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
In his remarks, Goldfein seemed to borrow a page from the Marine Corps’ traditional “every Marine a rifleman” mentality, adjusting the scope to adhere to the role the Air Force needs to play in orbital defense if the branch is to retain its grip on space-based operations. Further, Goldfein placed an emphasis on a growing trend in the Defense Department: inter-service cooperation.
Our space specialists must be world-class experts in their domain,” said Goldfein. “But, every airman, beyond the space specialty, must understand the business of space superiority. And, we must also have a working knowledge of ground maneuver and maritime operations if we are to integrate air, space and cyber operations in a truly seamless joint campaign.”
The Air Force has taken steps in recent months, many mandated by the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, to allot more emphasis and authority to the branch’s space endeavors. This will give the Air Force’s joint Space Command the leverage it needs to compete for a larger slice of the Air Force’s overall budget — and potentially begin to offset the growing capability gap between Russian and Chinese offensive orbital assets and America’s defensive ones.
We must make investments in our people to strengthen and integrate their expertise,” said Goldfein. “We are building a Joint-smart space force and a space-smart Joint force. That begins with broad experience and deep expertise.
Goldfein makes it clear that he believes the Air Force is heading in the right direction, despite the concerns levied by those critical of leaving space within the branch’s purview.
We will remain the preeminent air and space force for America and her allies,” said Goldfein. “The future of military space operations remains in confident and competent hands with airmen. Always the predator, never the prey; we own the high ground.”
Image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force
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