Deterring World War III with Trump's Space Force

Deterring World War III with Trump's Space Force
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When President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL players stand in tunnel during anthem, extending protests 12 former top intel officials blast Trump's move to revoke Brennan's security clearance NYT: Omarosa believed to have as many as 200 tapes MORE proposed the creation of a United States Space Force, the idea was ridiculed on social media. However, some critics have also accused the president of trying to “militarize space,” a silly idea, since the United States military has been launching and operating satellites for decades.

Indeed, with Russia, China, and the United States developing weapons with which to attack the space assets of an enemy during a conflict, the idea of war on the high frontier is starting to emerge from science fiction into the realm of the possible.

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In the meantime, Morgan Stanley suggests that the creation of a Space Force will enable a trillion-dollar economy beyond the Earth, according to Fox News. The theory is that a new, space-faring branch of the military will increase spending on crucial technologies. However, the analysis seems to miss one salient point. A powerful Space Force would keep the peace in the heavens, thus ensuring that its commercial development will continue unimpeded by war.

 

A conflict in space, involving weapons being deployed against space assets, would wipe out communications and navigation satellites, plunging the world’s economy back over 50 years. Modern communications and GPS tracking would no longer be available. Worse, because such destruction would cause an exponential increase in space debris, the task of recovering from such a disaster would take years and cost an incalculable amount of money.

The situation only gets worse as more commercial development occurs. Imagine lunar and asteroid mining facilities and orbiting space factories becoming targets during war time. As the world economy becomes more dependent on commercial space enterprises, the potential for disaster as the result of a war crippling an increasingly important part of the planet’s economy (though by then we would call it an “interplanetary economy”) would increase. 

A United States Space Force, dedicated to defending America’s assets beyond the Earth and to place those of an enemy at risk, would be an instrument for making sure that war never breaks out. Just as the nuclear strike force deterred World War III for decades, the Space Force would make certain that Space War I never happens.

The scope of a United States Space Force would start small, just encompassing the assets and functions of the current Air Force Space Command. However, as technology advances, launch costs decrease, and the scale of space-based commercial development expands, so will the mandate and capabilities of the Space Force.

Science fiction scenarios of Space Force pilots tooling around in TIE fighters are not going to become reality anytime soon. However, launch vehicles currently in development, which promise to decrease the cost of space access, will have the potential to expand the capabilities of a Space Force.

For example, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is developing a radical, new, reusable vehicle called the BFR or Big Falcon Rocket. Musk boasts that the BFR will, with in-orbit refueling, take 150 tons of cargo and astronauts to the moon, Mars, and Earth-approaching asteroids, the very places where private business would like to start setting up shop. A United States Space Force would be a potent organization to deal with if it came equipped with a fleet of BFRs.

Such a Space Force would have the assets and the power to make any potential enemy think twice before attempting to make trouble, China, for example, would not be able to claim the moon the way it is now claiming large swaths of the South China Sea.  An attack against American facilities in space would become increasingly futile and dangerous for the country mounting such an assault.

The Chinese strategist Sun Tzu once suggested that the most excellent way to win a war is to do so without fighting. The Beijing government, lusting as it is to ensure its super-power status through the opportunities that space provides, should appreciate the irony if that wise principle were to be turned against it. 

Mark Whittington is the author of space exploration studies “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.”