Space Force is a necessity — we are at war every day in space

Space Force is a necessity — we are at war every day in space
© NASA

Congress seems to be having trouble understanding why our nation needs a Space Force as a vital part of defending ourselves in the 21st century. The Republican Leader of the House Appropriations Committee said recently that the Space Force may not be approved because the Pentagon has failed to explain the need for it.

The need for it is this: Today, we are at war every day in space. We have satellites chasing satellites. We have adversaries developing and deploying offensive and defensive space weapons. Our $19 trillion economy is at grave risk that a space attack could significantly cripple us. Today, the potential of a space attack is as dangerous to us as a nation as the threat of a nuclear attack was in the 20th century. And we have no part of our military establishment represented on the Joint Chiefs of Staff that focuses exclusively on this very real threat.

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The Army does land. The Navy does sea. The Air Force does air. No one has as their primary focus, space. Each of the current combatant units are highly dependent on space assets to perform their missions. Therefore, they each have space components that are related to their particular interest.

The Air Force carries much of the space portfolio and for many years has done an admirable job of maintaining most of our space defense capabilities. But it has done so in an era when space was not considered a combat zone. Rather for the United States, space assets were an asymmetric advantage for intelligence gathering, for when we went to war here on earth or to defend us against attack, an advantage that was not threatened in a major way by our adversaries.

The world recognizes that what was is no more. In India, for example, Lt. General Taranjit Singh recently said that his country has an urgent need to restructure and reshape his nation’s space policy in view of enhanced threats. Our own new National Defense Strategy calls for “urgent change at a significant scale.” RAND wargames simulating combat against Russia and China over the past decade have shown us losing. What is it that Congress does not understand?

The reason for a Space Force is to have an independent combatant command that focuses on space as its singular priority. It would equip and train its men and women to fight and win a war in space. It would enhance our warfighting capabilities here on earth by assuring that our vital defense assets in space are properly protected. It would assure that our space intelligence gathering capabilities are not compromised. It would have a singular focus on what it takes to be the world’s most dominant space power just as the Army does on land, the Navy does at sea and the Air Force does in the air. It would have representation on the Joint Chiefs of Staff so that every national security decision made by that body would have a space advocate in its deliberations.

We are confronted with a threat profile that cannot be managed using the tools of the past. Space weapons are already deployed. Hypersonic weapons are a clear and present danger. Our ability to use space for commerce or for defense is threatened by billions of pieces of space debris. We are more reliant than ever on the use of space resources in our everyday lives. Communications, finance, agriculture, navigation and even driving our cars are space dependent. And yet, it is that newest frontier that we have not properly protected.

So why won’t Congress act? They seem focused, not on the need for dealing with new realities, but the cost of establishing the Space Force. The Pentagon has asked for $72 million to get the Space Force underway. To put that amount of spending into perspective, it is about 1/100th of one percent of what the Pentagon will spend next year. It is 3/10ths of 1 percent of a recently announced spending overrun in one Air Force program.

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What Congress says is that they are concerned about the amount of bureaucracy that would be needed to manage a reasonably small cadre of warfighters, about 15,000 people. But that concern fails to recognize the new military reality that skilled personnel are the wave of the future and that space warfare is likely to be fought in bunkers by relatively small numbers of warriors utilizing computers and other electronic gear. Training and equipping those warfighters with the most modern resources available will demand appropriate infrastructure.

Space today and tomorrow is a combat zone. It requires focus. Congress must recognize the danger we face if they do not act. Even if the Pentagon has not adequately explained those facts to the folks on Capitol Hill, perhaps they should sort out the realities for themselves. We need a Space Force.

Robert Walker (R-Pa.) is the former chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and former chairman of the president’s Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry. Walker is CEO of Moon Walker Associates, a consultancy firm that lobbies on behalf of space and technology clients. Walker was a signatory to a recent letter signed by three dozen former defense and intelligence officials in favor of the Space Force.