On August 9, 2018, a little under a month after the president met with the National Space Council and announced his intent to establish the Space Force, Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech at the Pentagon. He provided clarity on the road ahead and reinforced an important distinction, much to the dismay of critics: While America plans to lead the way in space, it is not pioneering space militarization. “For many years, nations from Russia and China to North Korea and Iran have pursued weapons to jam, blind, and disable our navigation and communications satellites via electronic attacks from the ground,” he said emphasizing the shift in recent years from a peaceful space frontier to one that is contested, crowded, and adversarial. “As their actions make clear, our adversaries have transformed space into a warfighting domain already. And the United States will not shrink from this challenge.”
Among the examples provided were a “2007 Chinese test of an anti-satellite missile; an airborne laser under development by Russia that will be able to destroy space-based systems; Russian and Chinese investments in hypersonics; and other technologies that would allow the two Eastern nations to steer their satellites in close proximity of U.S. assets.”
The answer to the question posed earlier seems clear. The United States is not driven into space in order to militarize or weaponize it. As we have continued to drive deeper into space, it has become clear that the space domain is no longer regarded as benign. U.S. assets and interests in space need to be defended. The military, the Air Force in particular, and now the newly created Space Force, in conjunction with the commercial sector and governmental agencies and departments, are the most apt to oversee this. Space has been militarized for some time with satellites in service of military operations.
Furthermore, discussion surrounding the militarization of space has less to do with aggressive, offensive operations and more to do with threat-focused space operations and minimizing our risk in orbital flight, from deterring positional adversaries who are developing, testing, and proliferating counter-space systems to simply cleaning up space debris that can pose as much danger as any weaponized flying projectile. To say that the Space Force is somehow a first step toward the militarization of space and is breaching a treaty is to turn a blind eye to the history of the military-space relationship and the current paradigm shift of space being a sanctuary from attack to a contested warfighting domain.