18 July 2018

Will the Space Forces operate as a separated category for the US? (2)

Mircea Mocanu

On 18th of June, the US president announced that he “asked Pentagon to start the necessary process to create the sixth category of the army forces” for the US, the Space Forces. On the first part of the process, we discussed the immediate reactions coming from China and Russia, which are against this perspective. Then we showed that, theoretically, it is normal for a special environment to have special military forces, and the US actually have this kind of troops. We shortly presented their history and the NCS’s one, which reflect the dynamics of the US military bureau and the coordination difficulties of this special process. Therefore, the organization of a different forces category involves significant American legislative and bureaucracy complications. As a consequence, we noted how president Trump’s vision has a reasonable resistance coming from the US Congress, where they already came up with a temporary solution, which is the creation of a superior assembled/unified commission.

Image source: Mediafax

 

In this second part we will analyze NASA’s technological process and civil projects, which show US’s special ambitions in the space domain. Looking for a solution for US’s Space Forces place, we will realize what the project situation of the Space Forces looks like and which the difficulties in Pentagon are, especially in the Air Forces domain.  Yet, president Trump asked clearly for a different category, maybe as the marine infantry is in the Military Marine Department, and the militaries do as they were asked to. Either way, the Pentagon works in the indicated direction, with the rapidity allowed by the legislation and the American military colossus inertia. Among the pro and against arguments, that we will see later, we must mention that US’s geostrategic enemies are already developing anti-satellite capacities.

 

American space ambitions and the current technological developments

The debates about creating a new army forces category dedicated to cosmic space come after the new US ambitions in the extraterrestrial space domain. These can easily be expressed through the expression: “back to the Moon and next to Mars”, to which we add the project about protecting the Earth against dangerous asteroids. (The second ambition relates to events such as “the black swan”, having a major impact, but will small possibilities to actually happen.)

On the other hand, in the US academic world it is said that “the space is a part of America’s image and it is a symbol, as well as a practical representation, of the national power”.[1] President Trump’s vision is presented against the Congress, as following: the president “prioritized the space. He understood that the threats increased, as well as their evolution speed. He is interested in exploring any option that can lead us to improving our capabilities.”[2]

The 2018 budget gives NASA 19, 2 billion dollars, with 0, 8% less than the previous year- an insignificant diminution comparing with the major diminutions from other agencies. [3] The highest diminution comes by eliminating the Education Office -115 million dollars, and the 100 million USD diminution for Earth’s sciences division. They will continue looking for life on Mars, as well as studying Jupiter’s natural satellite, Europe, which it looks like it has an ocean.

Regarding the ambition to bring back the human missions to Moon and then to Mars, they think about using the Moon to easily launch missions to other destinations, because Earth’s natural satellite gravity is smaller. Concerning the Red Planet, our will is to intensify the efforts in searching for life and to bring people on Mars, to make a living there, for longer periods of time.

Our following missions’ perspectives raise two technological issues: assuring the necessary energy for longtime missions, even farther than Mars, respectively assuring the efficient command of the technical systems, as the distance does not allow the opportune reactions at the speed that we are used to, in making different operations on Earth.

The answer for the first issue is currently developed through experimenting the KRUSTY reactor- High Speed Reactor Using Stirling Technology.[4] On 2th of May, 2018, NASA specialists announced the successful ground test passing for this reactor with nuclear fission, which offers a lot more energy (10k W) then the previous reactors, radioisotope thermoelectric generators type (RGT), used on Voyage and Curiosity space pathfinder, which assured a couple of hundred Watts. The last ground test was a 28 hours simulation of a mission that needed maximum capacity. The new reactor will be able to provide a 1kW power for 10 years and will exempt the astronauts from the continuous supervising of the alimentation energy installation.  The satisfaction comes from the test, as it is the first operation of a nuclear reactor based on a new fission concept, in the US, in the last 40 years. Another advantage of the reactor is that it can adjust its consuming need, including starting at a previous date, comparing to the RTG reactors, that had to perform continuously. The new reactor is optimized for ground performing, but it can be adapted also to perform on orbital stations, on ions propulsion systems, or to fuel the Lunar Orbital Platform- a project presented as an outpost for the astronauts activity on the selenary orbit.

The second issue, of the activity coordination from the administration Centre located on Earth, it is approached through artificial intelligence developments, which can assure the relatively decisional autonomy of some automatic systems, in missions which have distances farther than the coordination possibilities from Terra.

Regarding eliminating the Earth’s hitting danger by big dimension asteroids, on 18th June 2018, president Trump signed the Space 3 Politics Directive, which wants a tracking system improvement of the space scraps and limiting the production of such things. The order is limited at demanding the Commerce Department to create and to maintain a public data base that has all types of such objects from space. Actually, the US has the Space Surveillance Network program, which tracks the whole 20.000 objects- the current scraps from space[5], bigger than a tennis ball (from missile stages to pliers that astronauts lost). But this small step is just a part of the whole picture: on 20th June, NASA made publicly an 18 pages plan of the agency, along with other federal structures. The plan includes the action directions of the US for the next 10 years, about protecting the Earth from asteroids and it is called “National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy”.[6] The document does not propose the Space Forces, but underlines that almost all the federal structure are committed with responsibilities and capabilities in this direction. We must mention that Washington appreciates any international contribution at this project, as “the planetary defence it’s a work team”.

Concretely, the US administration analyses three options to move away the big dimension asteroids danger hitting the Earth.

A “gravitational tractor”, placed close to the unwanted object in order to embezzle it through mutual gravity effect.

A “kinetic impactor”- spaceship to simply hit the asteroid, to change its trajectory.

A nuclear hit to vaporize the asteroid’s surface and to create a material jet which propels the asteroid out of his initial trajectory.

Of course, these concerns remind us of the SF movie with Bruce Willis, but actually are big efforts, which need ten years to be finished. But why did we made this futuristic process? Because brings an important contribution at the whole picture in which it is analyzed the future of one of the most advanced space forces, military and technologically speaking. We must mention that NASA suggests the amount of 150 million dollars for this project, in the fiscal year 2019, therefore it is not a study for a rainy Wednesday.

The current situation, as the Space Forces project show and would the difficulties be

Let’s get back down to earth now! Since 1984 until June 2018, US’s Air Forces launched 280 satellites on the orbit. These had different destinations, from weather prognosis and tracking the ballistic missile launching, to supporting the militaries to keep in touch with their families. The satellites are essential to tracking, research, navigation and communication and definitely serve all the US military structures and not only these.

The AFSPC mission is to “assure resilient space and cybernetic capabilities and accessible for the assembled forces of the country”. AFSPC’s attributions include the command and control of the governmental satellites, supporting NASA and the private companies in launching missiles, tracking the cosmic straps that could interfere with US space missions, and generally “maintaining space’s superiority” of the US. AFSPC has, currently, 35000 employees.

A new assembled/unified commission dedicated to space would be the 11th of such type for the US. More than a commission of the Air Forces, an assembled commission would track the operational demands production, fight training, tactics, and strategy and doctrine development for all the army forces category, in the space domain. In such organization should be transferred the whole active and in reserve workforce, including the ones according to legislation and responsible for the military operations deployment in space, meaning the wings (regiments), squadrons and the subordinated groups of other commissions.

Theoretically, there are four types of antic-satellite weapons: kinetic (made to destroy the target-satellite); non-kinetic (gets the satellite out of function without touching it); electromagnetics (interferes with the satellite’s signals) and cybernetics (vitiates the satellite’s transmitted dates).[7]

But putting a military posture in the cosmic space generates international complications, which makes the officials from the Administration to explore other method, recently appeared, and that is building the future Space Forces as the Coast Guard’s responsibility logic, applying the law and maintaining the order. This possible solution is supported by the variety of responsibilities and missions that are not specific to militaries, for example the civil developments in the economic and scientific domain, from mining the asteroids, lunar bases of scientific research, space tourism, to managing the straps from the orbit. The comparison with the Coast Guard brings to attention other similar activities, available for the future, in which will have around 20.000 satellites: the maintenance of the navy satellites, rescue and searching operations, navy freedom assurance, launching authorization, suspect missiles and navy inspection, traffic management and keeping away the “icebergs”.  According to US Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, the economy associated to cosmic space will soon reach 1 thousand billions dollars. This is the reason why, a Space Force administrated by the Commerce Department of the Transport one, would want to maintain the order and the freedom of legitimate action in lunar space, by applying international treaties and inspections. Thereby, appears the concept of hybrid agency of total management in the domain, compared to the multifunctional iceberg of the Swiss army. Another interesting aspect is that such a solution could easily gain an international dimension, by involving specialists, officials and managers from other countries.

There are a lot of conceptual difficulties in creating such Space Forces, regarding the applying method of the military sciences at the extraterrestrial space: no country can pretend its sovereignty in space, and you cannot occupy a territory there; how you define aggression and how you can proportionally or gradually respond. There are concerns about creating a Book with the International Laws of the Space Military Operations.

 

Pentagon and Air Force’s position

The Air Force’s leadership, secretary of defence, James Mattis, and President of the Assembly Committee of the Chiefs Major States Forces[8], General Joseph Dunford, are against creating a different space forces category, warning that it would be premature and would add a burdening bureaucracy to the system.

Still, at the end of May 2018, under the president’s insistencies, J. Mattis stated, in Colorado Springs, that “reorganizing space operations is something evergreen, but I am warning you that the Pentagon should fully understand which are the priorities and which reforms to implement”, and “examining the issues at this moment involves a fresh approach, identify which are the specific issues and to analyze them, and if an organizational construction should change, I am here for it”.

The defence secretary deputy, Patrick Shahanan thinks that “creating an independent category of the space forces is not necessary at the moment, but the Pentagon will make a study and will how the things are actually”.

Later, Heather Wilson, Air Forces Department Chief (Minister) reduced her initial balk, saying for the senator, on 24 of April, that she is opened to different ways of organization for the space forces and that “the most important thing is not the organization, but what we are actually doing, defence ourselves on the orbit and make it clear to any enemy that, if he challenges us in the space, we will win”.

Considering the decision to create a category of space forces, come a lot of difficulties, among them being:

-a reduced workforce with the necessary survey, the majority being air force pilots;

-an educational system to create from the beginning a specialized workforce in cosmic space issues;

-the necessity of a politic mentality, to think the cosmic space as a national military advantage;

-the necessity of balancing a huge number of contributors positions (stakeholders) from different space force activities;

-significant achievement issues, the Air Force’s achievement compartment being unspecialized in products specific to space, which introduces spending augmentations and delays;[9]

-the Air Forces appealed a lot of times to producers and civil services, which shows the civil domain advance in the area.

-the actual Air Force achievement system has 0 risk orientation and expensive achievements, complex systems, not small satellites, dynamic and quick developed technology. Such an achievement system would not allow creating a space forces form sooner than the end of 2020 [10](as in Romania the public achievements law stops the big projects). An example in this way is the necessary period for the achievement of some defensive weapons with fascicules particles, which would help the satellites to destroy the missiles directed to them. The achievements culture should be changed drastically also by the authorities in the space domain, as the pilots have the mentality to reuse the equipment, and in the space domain there are re-usable missiles;

-using satellites for fight, even defensive, could lead to international law difficulties;

-even the military action in space could create cosmic straps;

 

Pro and against arguments

Pro arguments:

-President Trump is determined to make this step;

-The National Security Strategy of the US, published in December 2012, identifies the cosmic space among the international disputed domain, and mentions “manifested threats by those who wish to disturb the peaceful use of the cosmic space”;

-The main competitors, China and Russia, are already developing technologies and fight capacities against the satellites;[11]

-The simple difference about the space as an environment demands a total different approach of how the phenomenon should react in this medium, including the operators and the active structures ones in that medium. The spaceships does not look at all as tanks, ships or planes. As a demonstration of the military phenomenon, so the fight space, the cosmic space is clearly different comparing other environments and involves demands and conditions to surpass the strategic competitors and to assure the national security, to maintain US’s domination and the competitiveness  advantage in space;

-The costs should not be too big, as the Pentagon already has space forces, it just need to be well organized as a different category. “When you create a new category of forces, you do not necessary have to build an academy special dedicated”. [12]

 

Against arguments:

-What would the Space Forces do as a different category and does not already the space forces coordinated by the Air Forces?

-What does space domination actually mean? How can we control space?

-The necessary effort is huge and does not seem to be obligatory;

-The official’s disagreements and the system’s inertia, will not bring enthusiasm, but failure without any other causes. Bill Nelson Senator (Florida democrat): “I am not really into dividing the air forces functions and creating a space category”;

-The defence secretary itself, J. Mattis, is skeptical: “it would be premature to add organizational and administrative effort in this moment, when I am trying to reduce the non-operational costs and to integrate the assembly fight functions”; [13]

-The necessary costs would have to reduce other programs: H. Wilson, secretary of the Air Forces, stated in June 2017: “If I would have more money, I would invest it in lethality, not bureaucracy. I do not need a new chief of state of the army and other 6 new chief of state deputies”;

-Adequacy: the US already have a substantial advance in the domain: “we are spending more (for space defence) than all the other space countries together. We already have too many satellites in space than anyone. Our technology is way more advanced. Of course we have to maintain our advance, but do we need supplementary bureaucracy to maintain our technology advance? The idea is not new and has a lot of reasonable resistance.”[14]

 

Too early to make conclusions?

The American military organization is a huge macro-system, with a complicated bureaucracy and with a bigger inertia. A reorganization as creating new force category is a big initiative. This is why, the Air Force and Defence Department representatives, in general, have a clearly reasonable position, especially that the defence secretary is a popular ex general, not a politician who can be superficial or hurried.

We also add the subjective part of the Air Force leader, who does not want to lose any of his attributions or funds control. Plus, the Air Force would suffer the most after the change difficulties.

But the change direction was expected by the US president, who is, after all strong and determined. We must consider also the threat against the US, as the target of the enemies’ intentions in space, because the cosmic spacers represents the strength but also the vulnerability of the American power, due to the military and social dependency systems, civil, military and cosmic capacities. The strategic enemies of the US experienced anti-satellite weapons. This is why, the current and perspective US space capacity protection, will probably prevail, and the steps to a different space force category will be hurried- or at least with the American democracy and bureaucracy speed.

Regarding the details, now we feel the absence of the lamented admiral Arthur Cebrowski, the one that coordinated the transformation of America’s army forces after 11th of September, 2001. But, with a lot of patience and hard work, the Pentagon’s militaries will find the necessary solutions.

And there is something more: in the Congress it is harder, because we talk democracy, but in US administration, who ignores president Trump’s orders, flies away! (No, no in the spa

 


[1] CJCS- Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff.

[2] According to a report from May 2017, from the Government Accountability Office- GAO).

[3] General in reserve Robert Kehler’s statement, an ex-commandant of the US Strategic Command, for the Congress.

[4] On 11th January, 2007, China launched an anti-satellite missile from the Launching Centre of Xichang Satellites, from the Sichuan Village Mountains, Centre of the country. The missile destroyed a China’s old launched meteorological satellite. The anti-satellite missiles are a part of the hit strategic force, called (Shashoujiang- Assassins’ mace). Russia also created the program called the “Satellite killer” (abandoned at the end of the Cold War) and made a series of flight tests with the PL-19 Nudol  ballistic missile, called “direct ascension weapon”, but did not made a test over a real target-satellite.

[5] Todd Harrison, aero-space security expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in Washington.

[6] J. Mattis in a letter in October 2017, to Congressman Mike Turner (Ohio republican).

[7] Declaration from 20th June, 2018 of national security problems professor Joan Johnson-Freese, from Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island.

[8] CJCS- Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff.

[9] According to a report from May 2017, from the Government Accountability Office- GAO).

[10] [10] General in reserve Robert Kehler’s statement, an ex-commandant of the US Strategic Command, for the Congress.

[11] On 11th January, 2007, China launched an anti-satellite missile from the Launching Centre of Xichang Satellites, from the Sichuan Village Mountains, Centre of the country. The missile destroyed a China’s old launched meteorological satellite. The anti-satellite missiles are a part of the hit strategic force, called (Shashoujiang- Assassins’ mace). Russia also created the program called the “Satellite killer” (abandoned at the end of the Cold War) and made a series of flight tests with the PL-19 Nudol  ballistic missile, called “direct ascension weapon”, but did not made a test over a real target-satellite.

[12] Todd Harrison, aero-space security expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in Washington.

[13] J. Mattis in a letter in October 2017, to Congressman Mike Turner (Ohio republican).

[14] Declaration from 20th June, 2018 of national security problems professor Joan Johnson-Freese, from Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island.

 

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