Defense Department status quo is a weak argument against Space Force

Defense Department status quo is a weak argument against Space Force
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In1986, the first commander of United States Space Command, Air Force General Robert T. Herres attacked the idea of an independent Space Force: advocates were wrong because they failed “to appreciate how the Department of Defense is structured.”

Herres stated that the unified commands (like U.S. Space Command) had operational control over military forces. The services were only “resource managers” with the limited role of organizing, training and equipping the combatant commanders like him. “Space is not a mission,” he continued, and no Space Force was necessary just to manage resources.

America’s great military theorists did not share Herres’ dim view of the value of the services. Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie considered the different ways that soldiers, airmen and sailors thought, emerging from their unique domains, to be “the greatest source of strength” the nation had. America’s independent services were the custodians of their domains, and how America could best use them for national advantage.


For instance, Alfred Thayer Mahan and Billy Mitchell proudly embraced their domains. These professionals both offered their best military advice on many issues relevant to their domains: construction of canals, training of sailors and airmen, development of sea and air routes, technologies, industry subsidies and countless other subjects.

Americans applauded them for offering options for national action. These men, and the Navy and air service they served, did not passively wait for instructions and confine themselves to narrow mission sets dictated by joint combatant commanders.

With the rise “jointness,” and the demotion of the services, came the joint monoculture. Services are no longer allowed to think of themselves as the custodian of their domain. Strategic concerns have gradually disappeared from the services’ thinking, and the more joint-friendly tactical and operational levels of war are embraced. Few domain theorists have emerged since the 1960s and those that have, like the Air Force’s John Warden, had their careers ended for their trouble.

What is not generally acknowledged is that the Space Force will be the first service born in the age of the joint monoculture. It has no history of being allowed to think of its domain as valuable in and of itself. Military professionals are well acquainted with the joint monoculture’s order to not think on “space for space’s sake,” an explicit or implicit command for decades. Now that America’s civilian leadership have weakened this embargo through encouraging an independent Space Force, some suppressed ideas — based on far more analysis and historical evidence than the joint monoculture’s views on space ‚ have been presented. Not surprisingly, the monoculture has attacked them, following Herres’ example.

The joint monoculture dissolves service cultures and their ability to think strategically. The monoculture is corrosive to the traditional services, but they still have the nourishing resource of long histories. Slavish devotion to the monoculture is fatal to the Space Force because it needs to create an independent culture with a mixed force while firmly in the monoculture’s maw. Still, many reject the new service helping explore space or developing a “grand vision” for America, using the excuse that it is “not the way the American system works.”


Army Captain Meriwether Lewis, Lieutenant William Clark, Navy Lieutenant Charles Wilkes and Admiral Richard Byrd would probably dispute the monoculture’s opinion on military exploration. Mitchell argued that military airpower should be built on a “sound commercial aviation” and Mahan argued that the Navy could not function without a robust merchant marine. Space Force officers need an equally expansive view of their mandate, not to dictate policy, but to offer their best military advice for dominating the space domain. The monoculture will wail against a domain-centric Space Force culture for being insufficiently focused on the “warfighter.” The nation must ignore these calls or America will never regain its dominance in space.      

For the foreseeable future, there will be few opportunities for the Space Force to exhibit physical courage. However, the Space Force will need exceptional moral courage in order to re-establish American space dominance. The first occasion for moral courage will be to assault the joint monoculture itself. The monoculture’s fetishization of “jointness” has damaged American dominance in space. It has diminished America’s ability to regain its dominance in space. Jointness continues to be the argument-of-choice for those that want to maintain the unsustainable status quo if the United States is to maintain its status as a great power in the twenty-first century.

Herres tried to end the Space Force debate 30 years ago by claiming the “law of the land” was on his side. He ignored the fact that laws can be debated, adjusted, repealed or replaced at any time the nation deems necessary. Although transformational when enacted, the National Security Act of 1947, Reorganization Act of 1958, and Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 are nothing more than laws. They should not be worshipped uncritically. The Space Force offers new light on the impact of these laws on national defense. They have materially damaged American space innovation resisting establishment of the Space Force for over three decades. Civilian leaders now think a Space Force is necessary and that the service will need to be far more than another monoculture resource manager.

There will be modern critics echoing Herres, proclaiming the joint monoculture is the law of the land. If the monoculture will not allow the Space Force to explore how space can best support American power, as the other services had done for their domains prior to 1947, then the monoculture and the laws - not Holy Writ - upon which it depends deserve to be thrown on the ash heap of history. We are now at a critical junction where we must act boldly and safeguard Americans, our $19 trillion economy, and U.S. military systems that have become fully dependent on space for our collective economic well-being and national security.

Brent Ziarnick is an assistant professor of National Security Studies at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Air University, the Air Force, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.