Everyone who has ever seen a Star Trek or Star Wars movie knows future wars will be fought in space. President Trump apparently has seen one of those films. On Aug. 9 his administration officially proposed the creation of the U.S. Space Force, America’s sixth military branch after the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard.
Trump had been floating the Space Force idea for months, and the U.S. House of Representatives last year actually passed a provision to establish a Space Corps. Everything from full-throttled approval to ridicule and mocking greeted the Aug. 9 announcement.
Space Force was a softball tossed down the middle of the plate to late-night comedians who knocked it out of the park. Stephen Colbert pondered some mottos or slogans the Space Force could use including, “In Space No One Can Hear You Collude.” Some commentators made jokes about Space Force uniforms or ranks (if the Air Force has a “senior airman” rank, would the Space Force have a “senior spaceman?”).
Even some military analysts and commentators dismissed the idea with one even calling it “stupid.” Maybe they took their cue from administration officials. Last year, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the Space Force would be an unwelcome addition to the Pentagon organization chart. “If I had more money, I would put it into lethality, not bureaucracy,” she said. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis even lobbied lawmakers against it.
Mattis and Wilson switched out their talking points when the boss indicated he was serious. Critics still point out the Space Force needs an act of Congress and will cost billions to set up.
Warhistorybuffs know the facts of life. Humans by and large love war, always find a way to use the nifty new weapons they invent and space is no different than any other potential battlefield.
Retired astronaut and International Space Station Commander Terry Virts wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Washington Post Aug. 24. He argued it’s time for a Space Force. The new service should not only manage satellites and space warfighting technology but our country’s land-based nuclear missiles, missile defense and all cyber warfare as well.
So we may as well prepare for space war. The U.S. is not starting from scratch. The U.S. Space Command under the U.S. Air Force has been working on the “final frontier” since it was created in 1985. And oh by the way, the command is based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., so it must be good.
The Defense Department can do important setup work for Space Force without congressional approval. Officials plan to establish a new combatant command for space, a new joint agency to buy satellites for the military, and draw warfighting space operators from all service branches.
Vice President Mike Pence at the Aug. 9 announcement said the administration would propose Space Force be funded in the fiscal 2020 federal budget, which begins in October 2019.
Both Trump and Pence frequently mention China as a looming threat in space. That’s because the emerging superpower has experimented publicly with space weapons. In 2007 China destroyed one of its satellites with a missile. China and Russia are said to be developing kinetic weapons, lasers and cyber capabilities to destroy or jam satellites – ours obviously.
In a speech earlier this summer, President Trump said, “We must have American dominance in space.”
We’re trying. We have probably already developed “micro-satellites,” which are small, cheap orbiters that can flood the heavens and replace destroyed satellites. In 2008 the U.S. demonstrated its own capabilities by launching its SM-3 missile from a ship that killed a failing weather satellite.
And the ace up our sleeve: The U.S. operates the world’s only known “space plane.” The XB-37B is a robot-controlled rocket plane that looks like a mini-space shuttle. Once very hush hush, star gazer apps now alert viewers to periods when the robot plane is flying on test missions so they can watch it with their telescopes. Almost certainly the “space plane” can be converted to a “space fighter” in a very short time and proceed to destroy pesky Chinese and Russian targets.
Before we don our Space Force hats (What color should they be? What color is space?), a tiny little complication may stop all the fun. The U.S., along with China, Russia and dozens of other countries, is a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty, formally called the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.
The 1967 treaty bars nations from placing weapons of mass destruction in Earth orbit, installing them on the Moon or any other celestial body, or otherwise stationing them in outer space. It exclusively limits the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes and expressly prohibits their use for testing weapons of any kind, conducting military maneuvers, or establishing military bases, installations, and fortifications. Aw shoot.
However, space lawyers (not spacey lawyers) have already found loopholes. They say the treaty does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in orbit. So all you laser and rail gun freaks (I among them) can rest easy, I guess.
The treaty also prohibits countries from claiming the Moon or any of the planets as their territory. And nations are responsible for damages caused by their space junk. A side note about space junk. There’s plenty of it. Experts say there are 620,000 fragments orbiting the Earth that “can inflict significant damage or destruction.” Some 166 million objects make up the total space junk universe.
Space Force would mark the most dramatic reorganization of the U.S. military since 1947 when Congress merged the Army and Navy into the Defense Department and split off the Army Air Force into its own branch, the U.S. Air Force.
Space combat almost seems inevitable and according to my cynical viewpoint, treaties are made to be broken. Unless a United Earth Army fights aliens, we will probably be trying to destroy some other country’s space vehicles at some point in the future. Who knows what kind of super-secret weapons are already orbiting the earth. Remember that original Star Trek episode where Kirk and the boys traveled back in time to frustrate the launch of an American orbital weapon. And then there was Tommy Lee Jones and Clint Eastwood in 2000’s Space Cowboys who were sent to repair a satellite only to discover it was full of hydrogen bombs. That movie looked awfully realistic.
WAR REMAINS UPDATE: Another bittersweet moment in the ongoing effort to recover remains of fallen U.S. servicemen. This summer the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced it identified Tuskegee Airman Capt. Lawrence Dickson’s remains from a 1944 P-51 crash site in Austria. Officials were able to present Dickson’s daughter, Maria Andrews, 76, of East Orange, N.J., with a ring engraved with her parents’ initials along with a turquoise stone found near the band.