The Pentagon has released its most detailed plan yet on how it will make President Donald Trump’s Space Force a reality, and the first thing to clarify is what isn’t there.
Space Force warriors won’t be in space like those movies and TV shows we love. There are intriguing phrases in the report such as “operational space forces” that suggest space troopers may be there someday, but this is starting as work or organization and management.
Here are 12 things we learned from the “Final Report on Organizational and Management Structure for the National Security Space Components of the Department of Defense” issued on Aug. 9. You can read it here.
- The reason for what’s coming. “Space is integral to the U.S. way of life, our national security and modern warfare,” the report says. America has always had a technological advantage over potential adversaries, but “those potential adversaries are now actively developing ways to deny our use of space in a crisis.”
- What that means. The Pentagon is mostly talking about “China and Russia, our strategic competitors,” but it is also thinking about “other unnamed potential adversaries” able to operate on a smaller scale.China and Russia “are explicitly pursuing space war-fighting capabilities” now, the Pentagon says, including the ability to attack satellites using “directed energy weapons” like lasers, microwaves and particle beams.
The smaller players are pursuing the ability to disable satellites by jamming, dazzling (aiming lasers from the ground) and cyber-attacks.What’s changed? The threat of nuclear war that has restrained Russia on the ground for decades is not as effective in preventing attacks on satellites in space, experts say. Also, the United States is perceived to be relying on some outdated and undefended satellites that could be attacked with relative ease.
- How far away is a serious space threat? Some new Chinese and Russian anti-satellite weapons, “including destructive systems, will probably complete development in the next several years,” the report says. Electronic warfare capability (jamming and cyber attacks) is being accelerated in both countries now.
- America’s plan to respond. The “four pillars for a unified approach” are: “hardening” American space assets; strengthening deterrence and war-fighting options; improving “foundational capabilities, structure and processes” and “fostering favorable domestic and international environments for space development.”
- What are “foundational capabilities”? They include nuclear weapons; “communications, computers and intelligence;” “missile defense,” “the ability to kill, harm or damage enemies;'” and the ability to maneuver and field “advanced autonomous systems.” Enemies could include people on the ground if they were, for example, attacking satellites with ground-based lasers.
- What, exactly, are we talking about? “Persistent global surveillance” involving artificial intelligence to detect missiles; warning, targeting and tracking systems; alternate navigation systems “for a GPS-denied environment;” deterrence; and ground and launch stations, among other things.
- Where the Space Force comes in. Pentagon planners are pursuing four parts of a unified space strategy now: a Space Development Agency, a Space Operations Force, Services and Support, and a Space Command.
- What comes first? The Space Development Agency to “develop and field space capabilities at speed and scale.” The Air Force has already started transforming its Space and Missile Center into such an agency, and all other services will do the same to create a new joint agency.What will it try to do? Use lower-cost commercial space technology, shift from buying to prototyping and experimenting, and break down organizational walls to speed up development of new systems, for starters.
The Pentagon is thinking of historic drives to past breakthroughs like the intercontinental ballistic missile and the nuclear Navy. They were accomplished by strong technical competence and leadership, concentrated resources, and a minimal bureaucracy, the report said. An example cited in the report is the Missile Defense Agency largely located at Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal.
- What comes second? A “Space Operations Force” to support all military commands. This force will include “joint space warfighters” from all military services and also Guard, Reserve and civilian members. The Pentagon will be looking for talent and offering “targeted support, training and career development,” and the service personnel here will become Trump’s Space Force.
- The third is the creation of the Space Force itself. This will require changes in federal law, and the Pentagon will have legislation for Congress to review next year as it prepares the 2020 federal budget. The Space Force will be “a lean, warfighting organization” without “costly headquarters” and a large support staff.
- Fourth is the creation of a U.S. Space Command. The Space Force will be an “organize, train and equip (OTE) organization,” in Pentagon parlance, “responsible for national security interests in the physical domain of space.” It will be part of a new space command designed to “improve and evolve” space warfighting components.Led by a four-star general or flag officer, this new command will be responsible for preparing for and deterring conflict in space and “leading U.S. forces in that fight if it should happen.”
Would the Space Force and Space Command require new treaties or violate existing treaties about the use of space? Would it violate existing laws? That is a complex issue itself, and there are good introductions hereand here.
The Defense Department will recommend that President Trump create the new U.S. Space Command by the end of 2018 by revising the Pentagon’s existing Unified Command Plan. It will recommend that the Air Force Space Command commander “be dual-hatted” to command both operations at first. Later, the space command will have its own commander.
- Timing: Legislation “to fully establish the Space Force as the sixth branch of the Armed Forces” will be submitted with the president’s budget for FY 2020.
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