National Security: War on the Final Frontier

The House of Representatives will soon vote on the creation of the newest branch of the United States Armed Forces, the first since the establishment of the Air Force in 1947. The proposed branch being considered is the United States Space Corps – a branch that, as the name suggest, will operate in the final frontier.

Before we go into what the Space Corps is, we must dispel what the Space Corps is not – Star Fleet. Eliminate any notions of “space marines,” and dispose of any visions of Starship Troopers from the imagination. Humanity has not reached that level of brilliance yet.

The proposed Space Corps will exist to more or less be a guard for our satellites. Satellites are the unsung heroes of the modern economy. The internet used to read this article would not be available had it not been for satellites; modern communications are now completely dependent on satellites; your emoji-dominated texts that are slowly suffocating the English language are only possible via satellite. The military is dependent on advancements in satellite technology as well: Global Positioning System (GPS) has become an indispensable tool for the military. Wars such as the Gulf Wat could not have been won so easily had the military not had GPS to navigate through the desert. On the economic front, satellites help provide the communications necessary for the modern fast-paced stock market.

The proposed Space Corps will operate in a manner similar to that of the Marine Corps; in much of the way the Marine Corps operates under the Navy, the Space Corps will operate under the Air Force, and will report to the Secretary of the Air Force, the way the Marine reports to the Secretary of the Navy

The proposed Space Corps is the brainchild of Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Al), who chairs the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee. Congressman Rogers believes that the proposed Space Corps is necessary because the United States is following behind in the new post-Cold War space race, and the Air Force has been insufficient in its handling of the challenge. Congressman Rogers also argues that the Air Force has competing interests, and that its focus on aerial warfare will always overcome the secondary focus on space.

There is some truth to what Rep. Rogers is saying. In 2007, China successfully launched a land-based missile that destroyed a satellite. Russia has also been working to make developments in the field (Russia did have their own space service before it was absorbed into the Russian Air Force.) It is often the case that the United States fails to adapt to a new threat, and suffers because of it. The changing nature of terrorism vindicated this after the turn of the century on 9/11, and America is being reminded by the vulnerability to cyber-attacks. It would make sense to get ahead of this issue, and create a force whose sole preoccupation is space, right? The Air Force disagrees.

The Air Force has vehemently opposed the idea of a Space Force operating under Air Force authority. The main source of opposition comes from fears of adding on to an already complicated Pentagon Bureaucracy. “The Pentagon is complicated enough” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson stated. “This will make it more complex, add more boxes to the organization chart and cost more money.” Secretary Wilson continues, stating that money should be spent on “lethality, and not bureaucracy.” The bureaucracy does have a habit losing money: a 2016 investigation found that the Pentagon wasted around $125 billion in bureaucratic waste.

There have been few in this debate to argue against the so-called militarization of space. Indeed, it is naive to believe that space will be exempt by militarization. Wherever there has been man, conflict has followed him; with the taming of the horse and the conquering of land came cavalry; with the expansion into the sea came the trireme; and with the triumph of flight came the invention of the bomber plane. Space is a new frontier not yet baptized by the most banal of humanity’s nature. The nations of the world agreed to not expand warfare outside Earth, but then again, the nations of the world also agreed to outlaw war in its entirety – the next major war that followed that agreement was World War Two. As space has become a vital national security and economic interest not only to the United States, but to all nations, militaries in space should not be a question of if it will happen, but when it will happen and in what capacity.

The consequences of downed satellites can be disastrous to both the American economy and military. In the economy, the bulk of the IT sector will go into disarray, communications will be halted, and the stock market will suffer a tremendous blow. On the strategic front, the military will lose GPS – which will disoriented ground force and force pilots to fly blind. The protection of space assets in undoubtedly a national security interest, but there are some difficulties when it comes to forming a separate Space Corps

There is a question of organization. When the U.S. Air Force was created in 1947, aerial warfare had already reached an apex, as World War Two feature aircraft more than any other war before or since. Indeed, the forerunner to the U.S. Air Force, the Army Air Corps, had already built itself up and had a distinguished service history. In the Second World War, by percentage, an Army Airman was more likely to fall than a member of the other service branches. Around 26,000 Americans perished in the skies above Northern Africa, Europe, and the Pacific. The United States was also late in terms of developing a separate air force. Both the United Kingdom and Germany had separate air forces manifested in the Roya; Air Force and Luftwaffe respectively.

A Space Corps will be much more difficult to create, as staffing a military branch that focuses on such a complex and unexplored field will prove a challenge. One challenge faced is the enormous cost of space-related programs. The ultimate price tag of the space shuttle program cost almost $200 billion. The launching of a satellite can cost between $50 million to $400 million. Regarding staffing, one assumes that Air Force personnel will be transfer into the Space Corps, but one fears that it will remain small and almost out of mind to many Americans, like an intergalactic Coast Guard.

The proposed Space Corps is imbedded in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and there is much debate to be had in congress. Whether or not the Space Corps is established (if so, it will be in January 2019) or if the Air Force remains in its current capacity, debate regarding the future of national security in space is now being debate, and thus awareness is being raised. Perhaps America will be more ready to faces the challenges of the future, which will be a welcome divorce from the past.