Don’t make space harder than it needs to be
by Matthew Jenkins
|Most service members understand the role space plays in warfighting—it is the public with whom the nascent service needs to connect.|
As others have already been pointed out, the Space Force has a PR problem (see “Space Force sounds like a joke thanks to pop culture: how that could be a problem for an important military branch”, The Space Review, March 29, 2021). To the men and women of the USSF, however, there is nothing hard about it. The challenge is that the Space Force continues to articulate the reasons for its existence in abstract concepts that US citizens do not readily translate to their lives. The Space Capstone Document, virtually the Space Force’s first doctrine publication, is a 58-page manifesto that reads like an Army Doctrine Publication or an Air Force Doctrine Document—as it should. While that is great and easily translated by practitioners, there is no corresponding document that spells it out for the layperson to know the what or the why. The air domain had texts like Winged Defense, Air Power and Armies, and The Command of the Air, but no mass-produced advocacy documents for space power exist.
While advocates of airpower have existed much longer, America’s airpower advocate, Billy Mitchell, was bombastic and not always congruent with his Army leadership. While he faced much persecution for going against the grain, Mitchell was familiar with the works of Douhet, Trenchard, Slessor, and other airpower advocates of the interwar era. He made appeals to the American people regarding the necessity of a service to support the critical mission that air power would play in future wars. Though reflectively we can say he overstated its importance, we can all agree airpower has grown to be a key element to the United States’ modern military strategies. While the US employed airpower in the First World War, it was not until Americans saw the tangible benefit and enormous role air power played in the second that the policymakers took notice. The difference? Americans saw it.
Space is ever-present and currently populated by more than 3,000 satellites. However, most people do not see them and fail to understand the connection between space and everyday life. Though traveling at thousands of miles an hour, satellites do not do Super Bowl flyovers or airshows. Americans do not equate “the sound of freedom” with satellites like they do a fighter jet flyover. Even still, there is no domain more intricately laced into the everyday lives of American’s like space. This connection is the center of gravity the Space Force should be building themes and messages around and ensuring disseminated as widely and as often as possible.
People jovially rebuff the Space Force because all they know are that the seal looks incredibly similar to sci-fi iconography, and their new name plays against widely viewed mainstream cinematic hits. Nevertheless, few know that they are using the same capabilities the Space Force was established to defend in their jabs and quips on social media. Americans using Twitter or Facebook, or conducting online trading, or using their phone’s GPS application to bypass traffic on the beltway while listening to their satellite radio, are all using space-enabled technology—some unwittingly.
|The first step is making space relatable; build the rest on that. Only then can people begin to understand why Guardians are not just a fictional band of intergalactic vigilantes.|
Instead of messaging about how space enables combat in other domains to the American public, reiterate how space capabilities are built and operate to defend our freedom of action in and through space, enabling smart devices, precision banking, integrated control systems, and so much more. The public relations professionals of the Space Force should be developing campaigns to highlight how space power enables their everyday life. Most service members understand the role space plays in warfighting—it is the public with whom the nascent service needs to connect. Start with the basics, keep it simple, and educate Americans writ large on the interconnectedness space plays in their daily life. Having done that, the message of why Russian or Chinese space weaponization is dangerous will become much more apparent to the American public.
The truth is, space is absolutely vital to not just the Western Way of War but to the Western life we all enjoy. Articulating the mission area’s importance should not be challenging, but we seem to be making it harder than it needs to be. Spaceforce.mil explains the space force’s mission not in everyday language but the lexicon of military service. Even if we assume the site’s target audience is military personnel, it is the most forward-facing part of the Space Force and should dedicate some bytes to translating it to the public. Resources exist that make it plain to ordinary people, such as a recently published TED-Ed post on social media. The Space Force should be sharing, retweeting, and liking simple illustrations like that, and highlighting it to the public because it is quite simple, yet profoundly important.
The Space Force, secure in the new administration’s endorsement, needs to take steps to translate its purpose to the masses through a medium and a lens they know and understand. The first step is making space relatable; build the rest on that. Only then can people begin to understand why Guardians are not just a fictional band of intergalactic vigilantes. Instead, it is a coalition of men and women worldwide who work in the shadows to protect critical infrastructure and quality of life items we have all become accustomed to having. This need is driven home even more saliently in a pandemic where we are all streaming everything from meetings to TV shows. Instead of trying to articulate multi-domain enabled space operations, start by making it easy for all to understand how space enables their smartphone to change their house temperature. Keeping it simple is always a worthwhile endeavor.
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