Why you should take Trump’s Space Force seriously

Why you should take Trump’s Space Force seriously
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The presence of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis was the most significant visual that accompanied Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence communications director to leave White House White House crowd sings 'Happy Birthday' to Trump Trump won't say if he'd endorse Pence in 2024 MORE’s Space Force announcement at the Pentagon. Mattis introduced Pence, which suggests at least publicly, he has fallen in line behind the establishment of the United States Space Force.

Privately, Mattis would like to see military space operations consolidated into an area command, the Space Command, similar to Central Command that covers the Middle East as well as European Command, Africa Command, and Pacific Command, among others. 

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Regardless of Mattis’ opposition to the Space Force, Pence’s timeline for its establishment is very aggressive. Space Command would be established almost immediately, as well as the position of assistant secretary of Defense for Space to oversee the establishment of the Space Force. A Space Development Agency would be created to create new military space technology. A Space Operations Force would also be established to consolidate American space war fighting capabilities. The 2020 budget proposal would call for the creation of a Department of the United States Space Force.

 

The case for creating a United States Space Force is compelling. The United States military’s ability to wage war has become increasingly reliant on satellites. Navigation, reconnaissance, and communications are all handled by space assets. The world economy has become dependent on space satellites. The Internet consists of servers throughout the world linked by satellite constellations. Knock out those satellites and commercial companies’ ability to do business becomes seriously compromised. The space version of Pearl Harbor could reduce the United States to developing-world status in a single blow.

China and Russia, the main enemies of the United States in a potential conflict, are busily developing weapons systems to destroy America’s space infrastructure. Indeed, remote jamming may well do the job without resorting to a direct strike. The potential for jamming is a reason why Pence mentioned the development of jam-proof satellites in his speech. In all, Pence proposed an investment of $8 billion in new space systems during the next five years. The money is likely to be just a down payment for creating a new military branch that would achieve President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants MORE’s dream of achieving American space dominance.

The idea of a United States Space Force brings science fiction visions of American military personnel doing battle against an enemy in space. Indeed, the joke that has become common on social media is that President Trump is proposing to create nothing less than Star Fleet, the organization made famous in the Star Trek franchise of movies and TV shows.

Technology and the initial mission of the Space Force will likely preclude American military personnel patrolling the heavens and doing battle against an enemy for the time being. Space weapons will be operated from the ground in the short to mid-term. 

However, as dreams of lunar and asteroid mining bases and Mars colonies become reality, men and women wearing the uniform of the Space Force will likely be called upon to provide defense, rescue services, and even conflict arbitration. Weaponized versions of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket and Blue Origin’s New Glenn may be the first space-faring battleships of the United States Space Force as the current century progresses in the coming decades.

In the meantime, the question arises of whether Congress will go along. While the vice president stated that the Trump administration is working closely with members of Congress on a bi-partisan basis, the fact remains that support for the creation of the Space Force has been mixed in the legislative branch. If the Democrats, who have been traditionally skeptical of new military expenditures, capture the House, the creation of the Space Force by 2020 could become complicated. Democrats and some of their allies in the media are already ridiculing the idea. 

Nevertheless, just as the opening of the air as a war fighting venue caused the United States Air Force to be created, the transformation of space into a place where conflicts will be waged makes the Space Force inevitable, sooner or later. 

Those who suggest that the Space Force will constitute a “militarization of space” have not been paying attention. Space has been militarized for decades and is only becoming more so. A powerful United States Space Force would be the means of keeping the peace, making sure that a shooting war in the heavens does not occur.

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.”