America needs a Space Force for the same reason it needed a Navy: to secure American interests, especially commerce upon the great ocean that is space. In the 19th century, America realized the tremendous benefits that would be possible were it to become a seafaring nation. With the desire to be seafaring came a need for a Navy to secure its citizens, their property and their transport far from American shores.
Today, America is likewise waking up to the vast potential of space commerce in the inner solar system. Tech billionaires lead the way with personal investments to create access to an expanding and diverse space economy. Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX has developed and is developing reusable rockets to make humanity multi-planetary. The world’s richest man, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is spending his personal fortune to begin a multi-generational mission ultimately to enable trillions of people living and working in space and to move heavy industry off Earth to protect the Earth’s environment. They are not alone. A tremendous and well-financed ecosystem of private start-ups is pursuing everything from air-launched rockets to lunar and asteroid mining.
We are in the midst of a space industrial revolution — a revolution in transportation, mining and manufacture that will unlock a billion-fold greater resources than on Earth, and ultimately lead to an economic expansion larger even than what the New World became for Europe.
In space are stupendous amounts of accessible metals — far, far more than has ever been mined (or could be mined) on Earth. This includes rare and valuable metals like platinum. We now have the technology to 3-D print those materials into factories in space, and to produce orbital power stations to light the entire world with constant green energy. Space solar power satellites are a game changer, allowing the entire world to develop without environmental impact. The leader of that industry will command the century ahead.
There will be a need to secure those interests. There will be threats both from natural hazards and from human hazards. Wherever there is profit there is likely to be conflict.
While America opened the moon, our “eighth continent,” we will not be alone in space. Many capable nations are already spacefaring, and many more will be. The most capable are the great powers. American history warns us not to be dependent on the largess of foreign powers. A formative experience for our early nation were the demands of the Barbary states for tribute and safe passage, and later when the British Navy would impress our sailors. Autocratic powers are not kind to traders who don’t have navies. We can expect the same in space.
But nations will not be the only actors. Even now a few U.S. corporations have space programs that would have been the envy of superpowers in the Cold War. They will soon be joined by corporations from a diversity of nations. Eventually, some may choose to break the law, with or without the encouragement of their home state. Whether as pirates or privateers Americans and their interests far from our shores will be at risk. As our interests develop — and they will develop fast — we cannot leave them unprotected.
With such a vast frontier before it, we should seek to ensure it is a domain of liberty for ourselves, our posterity and anyone who wishes to participate under our umbrella. Merchant, pioneers and settlers have always required guardians to make secure the frontier.
It is for this reason — for the hundreds of trillions of dollars of opportunity in this new gold rush, to enable a new frontier of liberty, and ensure the benefits that frontier can provide to ourselves and our posterity — that we embark now upon creating a U.S. Space Force. It is not so that we can make war. It is rather to assure that the vast economic potential and all it can do for our children and our environment is not, and will never be closed to America.
It is to ensure that we build sufficient strength, at a pace commensurate with the development of our businesses, that a foreign power or malign actor sufficiently fear our ability to retaliate, that aggression or trespass of U.S. or allied interests never appears wise.
Peter Garretson is an independent strategy consultant who focuses on space and defense. He was previously the director of Air University’s Space Horizons Task Force, America’s think tank for space, and was deputy director of America’s premier space strategy program, the Schriever Scholars. All views are his own.