The U.S. Space Force is not about Space Marines

That’s right. So, all you HALO Master Chief wannabes can just go back into to your Mama’s basements. Someday, a laser rifle toting, boots on the ground, armed storm trooper division will maybe be setup and manned by your children…if you ever have any. But that is not what the Trump administration, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced back in June of 2018 and established in February 2019.

Our military…OK, let’s go one step further and say all modern militaries, rely on various Earth-serving orbital assets (a fancy military word for “toys”) to fight (and/or prepare to fight) battles here on Earth. Between the Air Forces’s GPS system which can target your bathtub from anywhere in the world, to National Reconnaissance Office surveillance satellites, to countless communications satellites, the U.S. military…all branches of it…depend hugely on a large, expanding, and very expensive array of space located stuff. Through the years, as these tools became more capable, the military has integrated them into their ground, sea, and air based systems. Ground, Sea, and Air are called “combat theaters” in military parlance, and battles have been fought in all of them as each side in conflicts attempt to deny their enemy access to those platforms to hurt them.

Did you notice that I didn’t specifically name Space as a place where battles have been fought…and that I did mention that the U.S. Military is fully equipped and trained to use (and has used) space as a place where they put equipment “assets” that help them break things and hurt people? Good. Do you suppose that military planners in countries that regard the United States of America as a present or potential future adversary might have noticed that too? Do you suppose that those countries may have considered ways of turning space into a combat theater in order to deny the U.S. Military the use of those assets in the event of a conflict with the U.S.? Yes they have and now you’re caught up.

Space, with all of its growing numbers of civilian experts and lots of and exploding numbers of civilian uses, has not yet been officially organized into a combat theater where assets know how to defend themselves in complicated ways from assets working to defend their own ground, air or sea assets from them. Militaries the world over have known of, developed, and tested ways to destroy things in orbit, but one-offs like that don’t yet make it a combat theater. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, which have been a threat to civilization for my entire life, cross through “space” on their way to their targets…and have been organized into detailed engagement plans (including defending themselves from attack) that entire time…yet that still does not elevate space to the level of being combat theater.

A war-fighting machine is not just a mob of people and stuff killing other people’s people and stuff. The movies depict it that way and any small window into any battle certainly makes it look like that. The truth is that a military force is an organization. It has a command structure made up of (hopefully) well trained, competent and experienced officers who earned their rank through being experts in their respective combat theaters. It has an organized supply system capable of operating (and defending itself against attack) anywhere forces might be deployed. It has what in military parlance are called “doctrines” which is, simply put, a playbook that folks are trained to, that is built from lessons learned, so that assets function with roughly equal levels of efficiency, aren’t making the same mistakes over and over, and can be concentrated and integrated in any combination as effectively as possible. We have all that set up for Ground, Air, and Sea. Battles have been fought in all of those places and there exists no shortage of history and grey-haired expertise that can build strategies and doctrines for fighting in those theaters.

The Space Force feels like a Trump thing, and that prompts all of us to make fun of it. Well, guess what, for all of his faults Donald Trump knows that he is not a military expert. He is not a military-focused President. He has been in office plenty long enough for all of us to see that pattern. Also, experienced executives like him know that they cannot be experts in everything, and so they rely on the experts working for them. In the case of the U.S. Military they are career experts who provide their expertise to whatever person sits in the Oval Office. Keeping the Armed Forces up to date with modern technology is not the job of Congress, which is designed to be inefficient and individually selfish. It is the job of the President of the United States…of whatever party. So upgrading the military is a President thing, not a Trump thing or even a Republican thing. Presidents who allow their military tech to become obsolete simply are not doing their jobs. These upgrades take time to develop and need to be started before they are needed.

Inter-Planetary space in general, and the Moon and Mars in particular, are not emerging combat theaters. No one has any plans to militarize those places or have any useful military uses in mind for them. Developing such would be a useless waste of resources that would be much better used to bolster military readiness in other places. Everybody understands that. If you think that’s what the U.S. Space Force is (currently) about then you think you’re smarter than all the commanders of all of Earth’s military forces. No one, not Trump, Russia or China, has any serious immediate plans to spend money defending empty regolith. If that is what the Space Force was about then of course it would be silly. Those places continue to be of interest mostly to science, and peaceful international cooperation is still seen by all as the best way to go to those places. However, close Earth orbit has never been seriously regarded that way by anyone. OK…the International Space Station is an important exception to that. Name another!

With exploding (pun intended) space technology capabilities, and U.S. adversaries beginning to view space as an emerging combat theater, it is time to begin organizing a U.S. Space Force…a seperate command and control war-fighting infrastructure, specifically designed for the needs of the Earth orbit theater. This was first proposed during Bill Clinton’s Presidency and has been in discussion ever since. Congress does not understand because they tend to focus on current, state-centric concerns rather than future National needs. The News Media and the public misunderstand because they hear the words “military” and “space” and immediately imagine the silly fiction of HALO and Star Wars. Scientists and science geeks like myself would rather see space as a land of peaceful coexistence, cooperation, and scientific discovery. Philosophers see humanity’s future as a world full of lovely (metaphorical) unicorns who poop (metaphorical) rainbows and lollipops (where did that come from?) and wish that advancement of humanity into space will herald in that future. A part of me does too. Yet, future winners and losers in the future real world will remember 2018-2019 as the time when an opportunity for foresight and preparation was seen and addressed…or neglected…by a man who’s job it is to deal with such things.



~ by Bill Housley on September 14, 2019.

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