America needs a space corps
It’s time for the Pentagon to create an independent orbital military service
by M.V. “Coyote” Smith
|Ultimately, America’s national security interests in space will best be served when Congress creates an independent Space Corps, just as it created independent services for land, sea and air, uniting them under the Department of Defense.|
Space operations are becoming ever more critical to American and global economic interests and military power projection to a degree that warrants a devoted service. The expertise required to operate in space is so fundamentally different and specialized, and the space-minded perspective so altogether different, that it will never serve the nation to have this expertise and perspective under-resourced and buried under another service.
An independent Space Force would have the freedom to develop the best thinking on space operations, to develop the best expertise, to provide the best military advice to the President and theater combatant commanders, to stand on equal footing before Congress, and be able to compete directly for missions and resources.
Rushing straight toward the goal can do more harm than good. Creating a separate Space Force too quickly would introduce many gaps in capabilities that would slow rather than advance American space power.
But an interim measure, creating a Space Corps in the Department of the Air Force, would set the nation on the path toward an independent Space Force in a manner that is fiscally and organizationally supportable without incurring the costs of moving too fast.
This article explains why the Space Corps is needed and makes specific recommendations to Congress for its creation. It also makes recommendations to the President for adjusting space policies in a manner that will empower Space Corpsman to secure America’s vital national interests in space in these trying times.
Threats are rising while entrepreneurs are on the verge of a global expansion into space that may dwarf previous eras of economic growth. The changes proposed herein are designed to encourage and secure exploration and commercial development in space by all lawful and non-hostile users of space— regardless of nationality.
In 2001, the so-called “Rumsfeld Space Commission” was cited as a last chance for the Air Force to “get it right” in space, before Congress would act to reorganize the national security space community, possibly by creating a separate Space Force.2 The commission made several recommendations to advance space power, most of which were implemented begrudgingly by an Air Force with an air power culture that struggled to accommodate “space geeks” as equals.3
|It is easy to understand why the advancement of American space power has stalled under the Air Force. For very reasonable organizational and bureaucratic reasons, space power simply cannot receive the priority it deserves inside the Air Force.|
However, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, occurring only a few months after the publication of the commission’s report, the Air Force took advantage of the distraction and reversed or morphed the implementation of those recommendations more in line with its original thinking.4
Making matters worse for American space power, the decision was made—supported by the Air Force—to eliminate the Unified Combatant Command for space, US Space Command.5 The reason given was to make a four-star general officer’s billet available to command the newly established US Northern Command—as if Congress would not authorize a new billet for such a critical position.6
In the years since, the Secretary of the Air Force eliminated the National Security Space Office, which served not only as the Space Staff to the Secretary of the Air Force, but also as the National Space Architect, and the integration center for defense and intelligence space acquisitions and operations.7 In its place was established the much smaller Department of Defense Executive Agent for Space Staff, which carried out staffing functions for the Secretary’s role as the executive agent for specified space matters.8 Later, this was changed to the Principal Department of Defense Space Advisor staff.9
These changes not only removed chairs from the deck, but also kept the remaining chairs moving around, giving the appearance that space was being given at least some priority.
It is easy to understand why the advancement of American space power has stalled under the Air Force. For very reasonable organizational and bureaucratic reasons, space power simply cannot receive the priority it deserves inside the Air Force.10 Everything else will be sacrificed for the air power mission. As a matter of culture, this is the right thing to do.
Carl Builder, a RAND analyst working a project for the Air Force Chief of Staff, pointed out in the The Icarus Syndrome that space power is a competing faction that air power advocates must hold at bay.11 The lesson being, no matter how vital space power becomes to the nation, if it is assigned to the Air Force, or any other service or agency, it will always receive short shrift.
The problem is far worse than simple competition between air power and space power. The Air Force has figured out a clever way to rob from the space budget in order to pay bills on the aviation side, and then get more money from Congress.
|In short, a space bureaucracy is needed to ensure America’s interests in space receive the attention they deserve.|
“Every year there’s a process game where the Air Force cuts the space budget and the OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) and Congress, with the loud support of the services and agencies that depend on Air Force space systems, restore it,” retired Maj. Gen. James B. Armor, Jr. wrote in 2008. “Cynics point out that this is a Machiavellian way to increase the total Air Force budget—which works.”12 It seems the principal interest of the Air Force in space has less to do with securing America’s vital national interests there, and more to do with using the space budget for other purposes.
There are long-standing and emerging threats to America’s critical satellites that are going unaddressed. As Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), chair of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, pointed out, space is often treated like the “red-headed stepchild… What we have got to recognize is that our adversaries know that we cannot fight and win a war without using space, and they have developed offensive capabilities that we have not done a good enough job of being prepared to respond to.”13
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, points to rapidly advancing threats: “Russia and China are developing military capabilities explicitly to deny U.S. forces the use of space, including by targeting our satellites.”14 It seems America’s dependence on space systems grows, but the threats grow faster.
Advocates of the status quo argue that a Space Corps would be too small in terms of personnel and budget to warrant its creation. Many also argue that creating a separate Space Corps would add needlessly to the bureaucracy in Washington, DC.
Such criticisms do not hold water when considering that preserving the status quo means continued stagnation at a time when space systems have become vital to national interests—and remain critically vulnerable to emerging adversaries.
In short, a space bureaucracy is needed to ensure America’s interests in space receive the attention they deserve. As evidenced above, space professionals cannot count on the Air Force to represent their interests fairly among national decision makers. America deserves to hear from its space professionals directly.
Some argue that Air Force Space Command does not yet have a warfighting culture, therefore it is too early to give it autonomy inside the Air Force as the Space Corps. Ironically, this is an argument the US Army used to prevent granting autonomy to its air arm between the world wars. The culture of Air Force Space Command is decidedly different from the rest of the Air Force precisely because flying is not its mission.
In addition, space professionals do more than go to war or train for war: they provide services from the satellite systems they control into every theater around the globe continuously, in both peace and wartime, to civilians and military personnel, alike.
It makes little sense to organize space units as if they were flying units, or space personnel as if they were fliers, but this is what is done today. The Air Force even assigns the heraldry—unit logos, patches, customs, traditions, and histories—of famous flying units of the past to today’s space squadrons, groups and wings.
The message is not subtle: the Air Force does not value space, space power, or its space professionals. It does, however, value the space budget’s contribution to air power.
An astute student of history will note that the complaints that space professionals have about Air Force stewardship are the same kind of complaints that earlier generations of airmen leveled against the Army during the interwar years. To paraphrase Mark Twain, history may not be repeating itself, but it seems to rhyme.
Something must be done.
Congress created the US Army Air Corps and later the US Army Air Forces to give airmen autonomy within the Army and the ability to grow American air power to its fullest potential.15 It succeeded. Now Congress must create the US Space Corps to give space professionals similar autonomy within the Air Force, and a mandate to grow American space power to its fullest potential.
|These changes would fuel a new space-centric culture dedicated to advancing American space power. The goal, of course, is to secure the heavens for all lawful and non-hostile users of space.|
Presented below is a list of actions that Congress should take before midterm elections in 2018 to establish the Space Corps. This will create independent advocacy for space power inside the Department of Defense. This is matched with the ability for space professionals to establish program priorities with the budgetary authority to execute them without interference.
The organizational changes recommended below remove space professionals from the stifling air power culture that drives sub-optimization of space plans, programs, and operations. These changes would fuel a new space-centric culture dedicated to advancing American space power. The goal, of course, is to secure the heavens for all lawful and non-hostile users of space.
Congress should re-designate Air Force Space Command as the US Space Corps with its commander being designated the Commandant.16 Cyber-related elements of Air Force Space Command need to be vested elsewhere within the Air Force. What to do with the cyber roles, missions, and personnel in the Air Force is beyond the scope of this work.
The Commandant of the Space Corps should have the rank of general and report directly to the Secretary of the Air Force. This relationship should be similar to that of the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy, and follows the legacy of the Army Air Corps.
This action moves Space Corpsmen out from under the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and creates a distinct space power culture that is free to develop its own customs and traditions to advance American space power aggressively into the 21st century.
With this comes the responsibility to recruit, train, organize, equip and educate Space Corpsmen to the same professional level as their fellow combatants in the other services, consistent with Defense and Joint guidance. This includes establishing a separate and distinct assignment, promotion, and rank system that more closely matches the mission and personnel development requirements of a space power-focused organization.
A Space Corpsman in the rank of lieutenant general should replace the newly appointed Commandant of the Space Corps as commander of space forces formerly assigned to Air Force Space Command. This appointment makes it possible for the Commandant of the Space Corps to establish headquarters at the Pentagon.
The headquarters of the Space Corps shall be to the Air Force, as the Marine Corps is to the Navy.
The Commandant of the Space Corps will sit as a voting member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on all space-related issues. The Space Corps will also proffer independent inputs to the Quadrennial Defense Review, and establish its own budgeting and programing priorities.
It will develop its own tactical, operational and strategic organizational doctrine, and participate in the formulation of joint and allied space doctrine.
To the Space Corps should be added the space-related systems and personnel of the National Reconnaissance Office. The NRO should be incorporated into the Space Corps with its leadership and culture intact. This point must be re-emphasized: the leadership and culture of the NRO must be respected, and so should their ways of doing business for the unique set of customers they serve.17 The Director of the NRO should remain in place and be recognized as a three-star equivalent reporting to the Commandant of the Space Corps, with all existing support agreements kept in place.
Over time, the Space Corps will assume management of all space-related manning, training, equipping, budgeting, and other command functions for all space elements under its purview.
In essence, the Space Corps will be comprised of two subordinate commands, one in the Department of the Air Force (elements currently assigned to Air Force Space Command) and the other in the Intelligence Community (elements currently assigned to the NRO).
The Army and Navy will retain their space commands. They shall remain constituted as those services see fit. Army and Navy space commands will place warranted emphasis on developing, in concert with the Space Corps, user equipment, theater coordination, and any space-based packages or whole satellites which a service feels are essential and proprietary to their needs.
|The Space Corps should be fully funded to secure America’s interests in space, and to advance space-related science and technology to ensure that America sustains an edge over foreign competition.|
The Secretary of the Air Force will establish a dedicated Pentagon-based Space Staff of not more than 300 military and civilian personnel, commanded at the Pentagon by the Commandant. The Space Staff will provide administrative support, legal and policy development, interagency coordination, and legislative liaison. It will assume from the Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense those space-related functions best suited for the Space Staff.
Just as the US Naval Academy commissions a proportionate number of its graduates into the Marine Corps, the US Air Force Academy should also graduate a proportionate number of graduates into the Space Corps. More space-related academics and programs must be provided at the Air Force Academy for those pursuing careers as Space Corpsmen.
A Space Corps Reserve Officer Training Corps and a dedicated Officer Training School should serve as recruiting and commissioning sources for the Space Corps, allowing Space Corps candidates to specialize in those skills required of a Space Corps officer.
To recruit enlisted personnel, Space Corps recruiters should be established, and Space Corps-specific basic training should be provided for Space Corpsmen, along with continuing professional military education throughout their careers.
Congress should expand the Major Force Program for Space (MFP 12) to capture all budgetary and programming matters related to the Space Corps. This will protect the space budget from predation and provide transparency into the execution of the budget, thereby facilitating Congressional oversight.
The Space Corps should be fully funded to secure America’s interests in space, and to advance space-related science and technology to ensure that America sustains an edge over foreign competition. Budget and program requests will be made using the well-established methods used by the services.
This action places budget and programming authority with the Commandant of the Space Corps through the Secretary of the Air Force, in line with the organizational design of the Secretary of the Navy to the Marine Corps.
Whenever possible, the Space Corps should share bases, facilities, and costs with joint and allied partners. Bases and facilities that are entirely dedicated to space missions should be the sole responsibility of the Space Corps. Where necessary, separate bases, facilities and institutions should be created to enhance the Space Corps’ ability to perform its missions in space.
Congress should re-establish US Space Command, but this time as a Geographic Unified Combatant Command. Presently, US Strategic Command serves as the Functional Unified Combatant Command for space, in addition to the nuclear and cyber missions as well. Those other functions compete with space missions for leadership’s attention, and budgetary priorities.
|Space systems have become a most lucrative and irresistible target for our increasingly capable opponents to attack.|
Space is a place, and for that reason alone it warrants a dedicated Geographic Unified Combatant Command. In addition, such a Unified Command is needed because space-based systems have become the center of gravity for not only America’s military operations and economic security, but more importantly, for high-tech societies, the American way of life, and Western civilization.
Space systems have become a most lucrative and irresistible target for our increasingly capable opponents to attack. Under some of the most likely and dangerous scenarios, the Commander of US Space Command will be designated the Supported Commander, allowing that commander to direct or request other combatant commanders to engage terrestrial targets in order to suppress or destroy various threats to space systems, which could span the globe.
The Commander of US Space Command will execute offensive and defensive counterspace missions, as necessary, to secure American and allied access to space services and to defend national interests from hostile and illegal actions in space.
Commensurate with this responsibility is assuring freedom of access and use of space by all lawful and non-hostile actors, regardless of national origin. Proportionality of action will be consistent with the Law of Armed Conflict.
The Commander of US Space Command, as a Geographic Unified Combatant Commander, will sit as a member of the Joint Requirements Oversight Committee. In that role, the commander will vet independently prioritized requirements for space roles, missions, and programs of record.
This is critical because it allows to the Commander of US Space Command and the Commandant of the Space Corps to ensure space roles, missions and programs receive top priorities and the funding to execute them.