America must build critical national security foundation for Space Force

America must build critical national security foundation for Space Force
© NASA

As the Space Force is built as a service branch of the military, it is critical that the foundation is based on all of space and not only the constituent parts. The Space Force has a significant opportunity to make its mark on intelligence, national security, and the American space enterprise.

Space fuels economic prosperity as much as it fuels military dominance. This fact is often lost in talks about the Space Force. We would not have the prosperity that we have enjoyed over the years without space. From the global positioning system to weather forecasting, every facet of our daily lives is touched by space. Getting all this right for the 21st century means getting the government approach right from the very start.

The Space Force must become first among equals in the constellation of the American space enterprise. This may be uncomfortable for some, but much as the frontier was pioneered by the military establishing outposts and facilitating growth prior to the arrival of civilian infrastructure, it will also have a key role in space. In order to achieve success for its mission, the Space Force must work closely with the other government agencies with a space mission. This includes the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, State Department, Commerce Department, and other agencies.

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This goes beyond the interagency process to a true whole of government approach to space. If we are to really build a space economy, we need to streamline the licensing and regulatory process, shifting them for the 21st century to ensure that American companies are innovation leaders. If we are to have freedom of movement in orbit, we must develop international standards for debris mitigation and removal, and for tracking and orbital deconfliction. If we are to deter conflicts in space, we need to have close partnerships with our friends and allies. If we are to establish an order led by the United States, we need a whole of government approach.

The national security space acquisitions enterprise is poorly equipped to address the great power challenge and seize the opportunities emerging from commercial space. If the Space Force asks for a coffee mug, then it gets a coffee mug. While this notion has worked to date, it is insufficient for the 21st century and beyond. The Space Force needs to examine the entirety of the space ecosystem and develop key relationships with not just the primary players but the commercial space sector at large.

There is evidence of such efforts with the Space Enterprise Consortium, Space Pitch Day, and other programs aimed at bringing in new vendors and partners that offer new space capabilities. They all have to be built upon and enshrined in the Space Force strategy from the outset.

The Space Force has a chance to establish an acquisitions system that is flexible and embraces the commercial sector. Getting space right means looking at capabilities rather than requirements and encouraging market competition. By changing to the model based on capabilities, the Space Force can unleash more innovation and creativity by finding solutions to problems that otherwise would have never left the drawing board.

It means changing the relationship with the commercial sector, adopting nimble acquisitions models, and becoming more innovative and less risk averse. The service has to realize that commercial space is not a fad and build it into the strategy from the start. Modern flight proven rockets are becoming the norm. The Space Force should develop protocols for flight hours maintenance instead of costly mission assurance. It should look at dedicated small launches in experimentation and rapid replenishment. It should explore what the future has in store for orbital activities.

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The Space Force must articulate where it wants to be in the next decade, envision the environment for the future, and clearly define how to reach that goal. It should then build backwards by making decisions, investing smartly, and encouraging competition. It needs to define the rules of the road and the direction in which it wants to run and allow the commercial sector to innovate, compete, and deliver modern solutions. Competition means some will succeed, while others will fail, and that is alright.

Getting space right for the 21st century means making space the whole of government and whole of country domain. It means that the Space Force, from the outset, needs to adopt a mission that is economic in nature and focused on national security. These are brave new waters for the military, but it is the only way to make certain that we remain ahead of Russia and China by building a future in space that is led by the United States.

Joshua Huminski is the director of the National Security Space Program and the director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence and Global Affairs with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.