Today Vice President Mike Pence formally swore in General John “Jay” Raymond as the new Chief of Space Operations at the White House. Raymond, who was named commander of the United States Space Command last August, assumed his duties on December 20, 2019, after the White House signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act that officially “launched” the new branch of the military.
The Space Force was created to organize, train and equip military personnel with a primary focus on space operations. In June 2018, the White House directed the Pentagon to begin planning for the Space Force as a sixth independent military service branch, making it the first new military service in more than 70 years. The last “new” branch of the military was the United States Air Force, which was created in 1947.
President Trump has touted the Space Force as “the largest ever investment in the United States military.”
Details of the Space Force were released by the Department of Defense in August 2018, and a proposal to Congress was sent in March 2019, calling for a service that would fall under the Air Force in much the same way that the United States Marine Corps falls under the Department of the Navy. The proposal also included the designation for a new position, the undersecretary for the Air Force for space, which is a civilian position that would answer to the secretary of the Air Force.
The creation of this new service will cost a reported $2 billion over five years, and require upwards of 15,000 personal.
In August of last year the Pentagon activated a new U.S. Space Command, led by General Raymond, but this was not reactivation of the former Space Command, which existed from 1985 to 2002.
“The U.S. Air Force has historically had the Space Command under its operational control,” said Arun Kumar Sampathkumar, industry manager for aerospace & defense at Frost & Sullivan.
“With the new announcement for a potential space force, the DoD now requires to plan and form a dedicated service out of the Space Command,” Sampathkumar told ClearanceJobs.
History of the Military and Space
While critics of the Space Force have warned that this could “militarize” space, the fact is that the U.S. military and other nations have long been involved in some way or another in the region that lies above the heavens. Much of this goes back to the original space race with the Soviet Union that followed the Second World War.
“In the 1950s President Eisenhower approved the launching of satellites with both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy competing,” said John M. Logsdon, professor emeritus at the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University.
Project Vanguard, the program managed by the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), was among those that led the early efforts. It also highlighted how the military played a crucial role in the early exploration of space.
“The military does a variety of military things,” Logsdon told ClearanceJobs. “In the 1950s there was a decision to create a civilian agency to hand the science and exploration, which are not military things.”
As a result there have been two parallel programs for more than 60 years with only some cooperation, added Logsdon. The military is involved with the early warning systems, communication and notably space satellites.
“They are not doing the exploration and the military is not involved in human space flights,” explained Logsdon. “The military has been doing those military things, and Space Force is just a way to do it better. It is an organization change, not a change in what the military does or will do. The image of ‘Storm Troopers’ in space, or leading the colonization of Mars is pure fantasy.”
What Will Space Force Do?
If it isn’t leading the colonization to Mars or patrolling Earth’s orbit, the question becomes what the role of Space Force will be? The answer will fall back to those military things that the military already does.
“The rising demand for forward looking missile launch detection capability can be delivered by space assets,” said Frost & Sullivan’s Sampathkumar. “The missile defense domain is gaining prominence, and military stakeholders across the globe are working towards improvised missile defense mechanisms. The U.S. DoD is also working towards such an enhanced missile defense capability.”
Moreover, while the civilian side of space remains concerned about sustainable space operations, the military domain is more concerned that covert space activities aiming at deactivating or destroying in-orbit military space assets might become possible, and remain undetectable, owing to the rising space traffic, especially in the low Earth orbit (LEO) space.
There is also the issue of budgets, and the fact that there remains only so much money to go around.
“The formation of a separate service requires significant investment which will cut into the defense budgets should a dedicated allocation get delayed,” Sampathkumar told ClearanceJobs. “The administrative overhead of transferring Space Command’s activities to Space Force will also impact the military operations in terms of resources and operational readiness until the Space Force is built and deployed.”
It is also important to note that the United States is not alone in having military involvement in space. The Russian Space Forces existed as an independent organization within the Russian Military of Defense from 1992 to 1997, and again from 2001 to 2011. In 2015, it was then reestablished as a branch of the Russian Aerospace Forces.
There is also the French Commandement de l’Espace, CdE (Joint Space Command), which is a joint formation of the French Armed Forces. And Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced last year that it would assign 100 military personnel to its Space Domain Mission Unit.
The militarization of space is not the same as the “weaponization” of space, but there remains a danger of a new space arms race.
“Entities such as Space Force will remain a deterrent as military presence from one force will drive the other forces to follow suit and this cascading effect might open the doors for the next arms race, globally,” said Sampathkumar.
“Military objectives will largely remain protecting assets in space closer to Earth, and making sure necessary deterrents are in place,” he added. “Militarization will not directly impact it as space exploration is more towards deep space missions targeting mining of surface and sub-surface materials from distant planets/asteroids. The presence of a space based surveillance capabilities can help detect any hostile activity conducted by space exploration players within the systems coverage area but beyond that the impact of military space assets will remain insignificant on deep space missions.”
This type of activity likely won’t occur in 2020. This year, at least, will likely consist of finding out how Space Force will work with the Air Force, NASA and the rest of the government.
“Working with others is the challenge that General Raymond will have,” said Logsdon. “To work with the different government agencies and NASA, and how it will affect those organizations is the first task at hand.”