There is an honest debate to be had over whether the United States needs a separate armed service that’s focused on space. But President Trump’s critics are having none of it.
Instead, they have responded to the very notion of a Space Force with dismissive ridicule, suggesting that he wants a corps of ray-gun equipped Buzz Lightyears shouting: “To infinity and beyond!”
That’s not what he wants, and the concept deserves to be treated quite seriously. A Space Force, done right, could be well worth having.
No one doubts that Americans civilians as well as military personnel are heavily dependent on what we have in space. Assets “up there” do everything from make the internet work to detect the flight path of ballistic missiles. Our space-based assets inform our weather forecasts and help guide us to our destinations with GPS.
Just as there is no doubt about our reliance on the things we’ve put in space, so there is no doubt that these valuable assets are vulnerable to everything from cyber attacks to satellites being shot down by hostile powers. And no serious analyst questions the growing capability of Russia and China to wage war in space.
One more consideration: It’s getting crowded up there. Space is becoming increasingly accessible to an increasing number of nations and even some non-state actors.
The honest debate we need to have is whether it makes sense to redesign the government’s byzantine space-program organizational chart so that control of the acquisition, deployment and operation of space assets is consolidated under an independent military service.
To be honest, there are good arguments for both sides of the question.
One key consideration is “opportunity costs.” Are the time, effort and resources required to pluck the various space-related programs from the other services and some civilian agencies worth the benefits to be gained by consolidation?
It’s a 50-50 proposition, but there are some good reasons to argue this is a good idea.
Space is a physical warfighting domain. Just as troops spar across foxholes; ships clash on the high seas; and jets stage dog fights, military assets will physically compete in outer space.
For thousands of years, military wisdom has held that if you want to fight and win in a physical domain, you ought to have a core of professionals who are schooled, experienced and expert in that domain.
If there is logic in having domain-specific air, space and sea services, there is logic in having a space service.
A space force also offers the opportunity to rationalize management of all the military and intelligence assets the United States has and to synchronize that with our civilian programs.
The third and perhaps most important argument is that this will send a powerful and unmistakable message to the world that American intends to be a world-class space power for a long time. It’s time for America to think big again to step ahead rather than watch others catch up.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Americans were fired up by the imaginative possibilities of what the U.S. might do in space. The fact that that are so many mockers not fired up by the notion of a Space Force suggests the time is more than right for this initiative. Americans need to dream again about owning the stars.
If Trump gets this right, we won’t see a war of the satellites. What we will see is America leading the way to ensure that the freedom of the commons extends from the seas to space itself. That’s a vision worth reaching for.
Now that Trump has made the decision to step out, Americans should stop closing their eyes to the possibilities in the heavens. Instead, they ought to be discussing how best to look upward.
James Jay Carafano, a Heritage Foundataion vice president, directs the think tank’s research into issues of national security and foreign affairs.
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