Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Space Force: A good thing or a farce?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 11:50 AM

Don't expect a large influx of money to pour into Peterson Air Force Base after President Trump signed an executive order on Feb. 19 creating the Space Force under the auspices of the Air Force.

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While Peterson Air Force Base hosts Air Force Space Command, an expert in space and military issues says the most obvious impact of the order will be adding a four-star general to oversee the Space Force and, possibly, the creation of new uniforms and insignia.

"I just don’t know how this helps," former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe tells the Independent by phone. "The only thing I’ve been able to land on is it’s a terrific solution, but what is it we’re trying to fix? I don't know what this is going to accomplish."

But others disagree, saying the Space Force might spawn more research and development spending. As reported by Bloomberg Business Week, a Department of Defense report to Congress last  year outlined plans to build a force to defend U.S. interests in space by creating aggressive offensive capabilities. These systems would "degrade, deny, disrupt, destroy, and manipulate adversary capabilities,” according to the report.

From Bloomberg's report:
A Space Force could mean bigger research and development budgets. Some in Congress have called for weapons that could destroy ballistic missiles from space. On a more workaday level, the Space Force would likely take over the job, now performed elsewhere in the Air Force, of tracking the world’s active satellites to make sure they don’t collide with one another or with space debris and to notify owners to reposition their satellites if there’s a possibility of impact.
O'Keefe, who headed NASA from 2001 to 2004 and previous served as Secretary of the Navy, is skeptical a Space Force is necessary.
click to enlarge Sean O'Keefe, former Navy Secretary and head of NASA, is skeptical of whether creating a Space Force will have much effect on national defense. - COURTESY SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY
  • Courtesy Syracuse University
  • Sean O'Keefe, former Navy Secretary and head of NASA, is skeptical of whether creating a Space Force will have much effect on national defense.
"This directive or organizational construct, I don’t know if it helps or hurts or does much of anything other than creating another four-star or another debate in the Pentagon that likes to debate belt buckle sizes," he says. "This has created an interesting organizational realignment at the Pentagon that will consume all the air in the room where they debate where the deck chairs go."

O'Keefe, who now serves as a professor at Syracuse University, said placing the Space Force within the Air Force is better than creating an entirely separate branch of the military. The latter move would have required standing up the bureaucracy, including a Space Force secretary, that accompanies any military branch. "In the end, the question I find interesting is that any time you create those types of structures, they become organisms that will work very hard to protect their own portfolio and strengthen their capacity of having some kind of influence," he says. "I don’t know if that particularly helps in this case."

Of more interest, O'Keefe says, is the Pentagon's intent, also announced Feb. 19, to create U.S. Space Command as a combatant command, like Pacific Command, European Command or Central Command.

"That does speak to operational focus and attention," he says. "That’s something that does put the operational commanders in a position where they will have the capacity to reach into the full array of Department of Defense assets for the deployment of capabilities, whether Army, Navy or Space Force of the Air Force.

Created in 1985 but de-emphasized after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which gave birth to U.S. Northern Command (based at Peterson AFB), U.S. Space Command essentially merged with U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska.

No announcement has been made where U.S. Space Command would be based.

But as for the Space Force, O'Keefe says it's the nation's shot across the bow, so to speak, to countries who have flexed their muscle, such as North Korea and China. But the rising threat of those who would wreak havoc in space isn't necessarily addressed simply by naming a a new division of an existing military branch, he says.

But it does send a signal to adversaries, James Carafano, a military and national security expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation, says in an essay. "It's time for America to think big again," he writes.

From Carafano's August 2018 commentary:
No one doubts that Americans civilians as well as military personnel are heavily dependent on what we have in space. Assets "up there" do everything from make the internet work to detect the flight path of ballistic missiles. Our space-based assets inform our weather forecasts and help guide us to our destinations with GPS.

Just as there is no doubt about our reliance on the things we've put in space, so there is no doubt that these valuable assets are vulnerable to everything from cyber attacks to satellites being shot down by hostile powers. And no serious analyst questions the growing capability of Russia and China to wage war in space.

For Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee's Readiness Subcommittee, a new Space Force sends a message that Trump takes national security seriously.

"President Trump's recognition that space is a war-fighting domain sends a clear message to our adversaries," Lamborn said in a statement. "The Pikes Peak region is already the epicenter of space defense and is prepared to support the president's efforts."

But the idea of taking the military fight into orbit troubles some citizens, among them Bill Sulzman, a peace activist in Colorado Springs.

"The Air Force and the Colorado Air Force complex will be pleased by this development," Sulzman tells the Indy via email. "They did not want a totally separate free standing Space Force. Local Air Force bases will continue to grow robustly. Cha ching! The next big battle will be to see if Cyber War gets a separate branch or if the Air Force gets to keep cyber under their wings going forward. Big money there, too."

Trump's move to create a Space Force must be approved by Congress.

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