The commander the Space Force needs

The commander the Space Force needs
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Now that America’s two senior space generals have been selected for other high visibility posts, President TrumpDonald John TrumpComey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' Congress to get election security briefing next month amid Intel drama New York man accused of making death threats against Schumer, Schiff MORE must soon consider the next important space assignment — the commander of the U.S. Space Force.  To ensure the organization accomplishes what military theory demands and the administration wants from the new service, the president should appoint Air Force Lieutenant General Steven L. Kwast as the Space Force’s first commander.

Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie identified the critical importance of the military services to the nation: They develop and champion ways to win from their domain.  Writing in the 1950s, Wylie identified three general “strategies” in military thought.  They were the continental, air and maritime strategies, three separate and distinct ways to win a conflict.  The continental — or land — strategy instructed the military to destroy the enemy’s fielded forces through direct engagement, preferably in a decisive single battle.  The air strategy aimed to rain destruction upon the enemy’s interior vital targets such as industrial and population centers to destroy his will and ability to wage war.  Lastly, the maritime strategy first intended to gain control of the sea from the enemy, and then use the sea to manipulate events on land. 

However, where the air strategy applied the military element of national power in the form of massive bombing from the air, the maritime strategy historically limited its reliance on combat power from the sea, instead relying upon “devious and subtle… workings that in large measure were economic and political rather than military.”


Wylie considered the different ways that soldiers, airmen, and sailors thought (manifested in their strategies) to be “the greatest source of strength” the nation had, and that nothing “would be more dangerous to our nation than a comfortable and placid acceptance of a single idea, a single and exclusively dominant military pattern of thought.”

Decades later, U.S. Navy Lieutenant David Adams identified that Wylie’s fear had come to pass.  “Attempts to create a monolithic joint culture,” Adams argued, had “denied the country an array of strategic options that naturally flow from the unique service heritages.”  Rejecting the utility of the three domain strategies, the Pentagon created a hybrid continental-air joint strategy that favored applying blunt military force through decisive battle over the more subtle, indirect political and economic pressure-centric path to victory the maritime strategy offered.

This monolithic joint culture — the monoculture — is dominant in today’s Pentagon.  The monoculture, convinced of the superiority of the continental-air hybrid joint strategy, places no value on a new space strategy.  The monoculture wants nothing from its space members beyond protecting the joint force’s satellites.  This is why the Pentagon has resisted the Space Force.  The monoculture considers any new service at best an unneeded bureaucracy and at worst a potential spoiler of its existing priorities. 

n contrast to the Pentagon, there is no doubt that the Trump administration seeks a larger role for the Space Force than simply being the satellite arm of the monoculture. Trump’s vision was very clear when he directed the Defense Department to begin planning for the Space Force in June of 2018. "My administration,” Trump announced, “is reclaiming America's heritage as the world's greatest space-faring nation.”  

Ordering his administration to embrace the commercial space industry, Trump said, "A new generation of young people seek to challenge — really challenge hard — to get their talents and skill to work.  And now we're giving them a forum and a platform from which they can put that genius to work... And once more, we will proudly lead humanity… beyond the Earth and into those forbidden skies, but they will not be forbidden for long."  The Space Force is that platform.


No senior space officer has spoken of the Space Force in this manner.  None have deviated from the monoculture’s view.  However, Kwast has, against great odds, seen beyond the monoculture and has focused on space as a domain far greater than its mere warfighting potential.  Instead, Kwast has provided his best military advice — a vision capable of becoming a military space strategy in Wylie’s sense, which operationalizes Trump’s grand vision of a space service to lead America into victory in the great power competition of the twenty-first century.  Although Kwast is a fighter pilot, he has proven he is a leading space thinker who places this priority domain within the context of the 21st century great power competition. 

During the last few years when many Air Force general officers kept silent, Kwast spoke and wrote about space.  A few scant weeks after Trump’s Space Force announcement, Kwast echoed and expanded on Trump’s Space Force vision in an editorial

“I see a future in which space is no longer a distant frontier but rather a vibrant arena of exploration, manufacturing, trade, and prosperity,” Kwast writes. “As this vibrant arena develops, the U.S. military will play an active role, defending commercial markets and private citizens, as is our duty and tradition.” 

Where Trump demanded economic expansion, Kwast sets out methods, offering “Imagine a world where materials harvested from asteroids are stored in space, used to 3D-print new satellites or space vehicles, without any need for a gravity-defeating launch vehicle to put them into space,” he writes.

“Imagine the impact on humanity if space-based solar power and internet access could fuel and connect the whole world for free,” Kwast added. “ This vision is not a 100-year pipe dream.  The components and vision are already here.  We only require the national vision, will, and commitment.” 

Kwast ends asking “Who will be the first to lash together industry, commerce, and military strength to unleash new horizons of national prosperity?” adding “there won’t be many prizes for second place.”  Kwast’s vision is the execution of Trump’s great platform of the Space Force.

The president deserves a Space Force commander that has demonstrated the understanding, aptitude, and inclination to lead the development of a space strategy that will propel America to a dominant position in space for centuries to come.  The nation deserves an unwavering advocate with a firm understanding of what space can do for the nation, not just the Pentagon monoculture. 

With Kwast pushing the boundaries of the American military potential and developing the next great domain strategy for military victory, the Space Force will take its place as front-line defenders of American peace, prosperity, and power in the 21st century and beyond.     

Brent Ziarnick is an assistant professor at the U.S. Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College.  He is the author of the book “Developing National Power in Space” and the editor of “21st Century Power.” The views expressed are his own