Take the handcuffs off the US Space Force
The Heritage Foundation recently published its “Executive Summary of the 2023 Index of U.S. Military Strength,” an annual report put out by the foundation to “gauge the U.S. military’s ability to perform its mission in today’s world.” In it, there is reference to the newly formed United States Space Force (USSF) asserting there is “little evidence it has improved its readiness to provide nearly real-time support to operational and tactical lees of force operations or that it is ready in any way to execute defensive and offensive counterspace operations to the degree envisioned by Congress.” Let’s examine the impacts of this statement.
If the USSF is not successful in its ability to contest space, the other branches of the armed forces will struggle to meet military objectives against an adversary capable of using space-enabled weapons for targeting or other purposes. All other military services and their respective operations rely on the use of the space domain. Without freedom of action to move in and through space, those operations effectiveness become greatly challenged. One only need look at the effectiveness of commercial space in supporting Ukrainian command and control mission to determine how necessary space-based capabilities are. These are the types of capabilities the USSF deliver to ensure other military services can accomplish their objectives.
The budget and personnel need to be adjusted due to the criticality of the USSF mission. Because the success of the USSF is critical to the joint fight, it is noteworthy that it is only given about 2.5 percent of the Department of Defense budget. Congress needs to examine whether this amount can provide the necessary systems the USSF will need to accomplish their assigned tasks. From a personnel perspective, the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, with approximately 10,000 Air Force airmen, is larger than the entire USSF at 8,400 Space Force guardians. It is time for Congress to determine whether the amount of personnel dedicated to the USSF mission is effective. Organizationally, there are still folks confused about the USSF structure. There are great strides being made to ensure national space superiority objectives can be accomplished through organizational alignment; however, there is still plenty of room for improvement. If one compares the Air Force, which has over 100 wings or wing equivalent organizations, to the USSF with its three field commands, you can see additional personnel and organizational structure needs to be shifted to support the USSF.
The National Defense Authorization Act’s (NDAA) language has not allowed the USSF to grow to support its global mission of creating the expertise and developing the systems necessary to conduct its space superiority mission. The USSF was created to enable development of military forces in the space domain. This includes doctrine, acquisition and force development. This is a daunting task when you think about all the requirements that go along with providing trained experts ready to execute their space superiority mission. An example is how current systems are deployed to Space Force guardians. They currently do not have simulators, tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) manuals or a realistic training environment to train on. How are guardians expected to be able to conduct their mission without these critical needs? If any other military branch was hamstrung the way the USSF is, this nation would be ill-prepared to conduct most military operations. Perhaps inclusion of this operational need in the NDAA would force acquisition of these critical requirements.
With all that is going on in our world today and the criticality of the space domain to the United States, allies and partners, it is time to take the handcuffs off the USSF and provide this branch the personnel, equipment, authority and legislative support so they can achieve their critical mission of providing ready trained forces to achieve space superiority.
Retired Air Force Colonel Bill Woolf worked as a space weapons officer for the majority of his 24-year career, where he helped bring spacepower to combatant commands around the globe. He deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom and was the director of Space Forces in Korea. Woolf is president of the Space Force Association, which he founded in 2019 to inform, educate and advocate for a strong United States Space Force. It is the only independent non-profit organization that serves as a professional military association.