17 July 2018

Will the Space Forces operate as a separated category for the US? (Part 1)

Mircea Mocanu

On 18th of June, before the National Space Council meeting (NSC), US president, Donald Trump, announced that he “asked the Pentagon to immediately start the necessary process to create the sixth army forces category” of the US, the Space Forces. Which are the difficulties and the perspectives of this vision?

Image source: Mediafax

We will try to deal with this in two parts.

Firstly, China and Russia reacted immediately against this perspective. But, theoretically, it seems normal for a special environment to ask for special military forces, and the US actually have this kind of troops. Its history reflects the dynamic of the development direction of an American military bureau, and NSC’s history indicates the coordination’s difficulty of such a special process. Therefore, organizing a separated category of forces involves significant complications for the American legislation and bureaucracy. This is the reason why Donald Trump’s vision faces a reasonable resistance in the US congress, where already they came up with an intermediary solution of creating a unified/assembled commission.

Secondly, we will examine NASA’s technological level and the civil projects, which show US’s incredible ambitions for the space domain.  Searching for a solution about the Space’s Forces place in the US, we will see the actual phase of the Space Forces project, which are the difficulties that the Pentagon is facing, and especially, the Air Forces. Either way, President Donald Trump clearly wanted a separated category, maybe as the marine infantry operates in the Military Marine Departments, and the military do as they were said to.  Hence the Pentagon works in the indicated direction, with the permitted rapidity that the legislation and the American military colossus inertia allows. Among lots of pro and against arguments that we will analyze, we will see that US’s geostrategic enemies are already developing anti-satellite capacities.


The necessity of some forces dedicated to extraterrestrial space

The military sciences show that the military operations, as well as the forces that they are deploying, are different considering the place they operate in. After planes invention, air forces appeared on the two initial categories, then the air forces developed as a category which is different from the army forces. In US, the air forces were created in 1947, and now the American government has 5 army forces categories:  terrestrial, naval, marine infantry, coast guard[1] and the air forces.

But, as time was passing by, the military operations (or generally, forces) extended to other physical domains in which the states wanted to dominate: for example, the cosmic space and the virtual one, the informational and cyber space. [2] Even the US president stated, in his speech held at the marine infantry aviation base in Miramar, California: “My new space national strategy admits that the cosmic space is an army fight domain, exactly as the field is for the terrestrial, air or maritime fight”. Then, in the speech before the NSC meeting, president Trump showed that: “when we are talking about defending America, a simple American presence in space it is not enough. The Americans must dominate the space”.

The Space’s Forces denomination can suggest the image of some sophisticated space navy fleets or the crossed fire with laser beams and some cataclysmically explosions.  But, at the moment, the military men’s and the American’s researchers attention goes to the space security, meaning that they want to keep other powers (states) away from the US satellites. Even so, the problem regarding the creation of an army category for the extraterrestrial space raises a lot of issues.

Firstly, US president’s intervention it is not something new, being promoted since his electoral campaign, in October 2016, when Donald Trump launched the idea of remaking NSC, that we will discuss later. Then, President Donald Trump repeated the necessity of creating space forces on 13th of March, at the Miramar base, close to San Diego, then on First of May, at the White House, at the premiere of a football team.


Reactions coming from the competitor powers

After the 18th of June announce, the competitors’ reactions came out. Hence, China’s Foreign Minister stated, the second day, that the Chinese Republic “always supported the peaceful use of the cosmic space and that China is against the weaponry emplacement in Cosmos and starting an arm run in the terrestrial space… Particularly, we are against the cosmic space’s transformation into a battlefield”. Then on 21th of June, the Russian Foreign Minister said that Russia warns that Donald Trump’s Space Forces suggests “a military confrontation in the cosmic space”, as “the American president’s inclination aim was very clear- “space domination”, and “a military confrontation in the cosmic space can have the same destructive consequences, similar to the nuclear arm run in which the US pushed the world after the Second World War”.

Actually, the Treaty regarding the Cosmic Space from 1967, asks the states to use the extraterrestrial space only in peaceful aims and prohibits placing “nuclear weaponry or other destructive weapons on the orbit or over other celestial corps, or placing them in the cosmic space on any kind”. But the American officials have their own text interpretation of the Treaty since the Kennedy administration, when they were supporting that the pure defensive weapons, as the ones regarding anti-satellite racket satellites protection, would actually fit in the Treaty’s commitments. Moreover, in US’s think-thank space, it is estimated that the American initiatives “does not indicate that the space will become a weaponry medium or that it will be militarized, this is happening regardless, no matter that the US will do”. The space militarization is made by other states. “Either way, starting with 1985, it was created an unofficial moratorium over the anti-satellite weapons testing.

On the other hand, the problem is ambiguous, and that is because according to some analysts[3] “since the majority of the technology is dually used, it is difficult to establish if a country wants to use it in civil or military aims, or which equipment is defensive and not offensive.”


A short retrospective

US’s military activity in the extraterrestrial spaces begins at the beginnings of the Space Era, after the Second World War ended, precisely after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, in 1957. This event created the concern that the soviet carrier rackets could be redirected to hit US targets, like the intercontinental ballistic rackets. Hence, during Dwight Eisenhower administration, in 1959, it was launched the Corona satellites program, dedicated to research, for informational collecting by photographing world’s space. Eisenhower President wanted to place the whole space activity under the Pentagon’s control, but his scientific issues counsellor, as well as the vice-president Richard Nixon, convinced him that the US would benefit more if there was a different civil agency, to openly commit itself in international cooperation -NASA, and a different military structure for secret space activities.

Afterwards, John F. Kennedy president considered the idea of a different category of space forces, but he gave up the idea. In the 60’s, the Pentagon had two other projects, both abandoned: Dyna-Soar and MOL (Manned Orbiting Laboratory). After that, between 1980 and 1990, space crafts had military missions coordinated by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency[4] , or by the National Reconnaissance Office[5]. The military control idea of the cosmic space was developed over the popular “Star Wars”, from the 80’, which had also anti-satellite components. Either way, the Air Forces Department (FAer), which coordinated all the achievements associated with Pentagon’s activity in space, made, in 1982, a Space Commission (AFSPC)[6] in its structure. [7]

 In 2000, the armed service concept dedicated to space was supported by the Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who included conditions in supporting this concept in the Authorization Law (Spending) of National Defence.  Actually, before 11th of September 2001, creating an army force category, especially made for the cosmic space, was one of the Pentagon’s main concerns.

But after the terrorist’s attacks in 2001, a priority became the Special Forces area and the national territory defence against the terrorism. For the space area were important only the defensive measures, the facilities protection endowment and the artificial satellites carrier rackets launching event, especially Cape Canaveral. The logic of these measures is that these public manifestations and the rackets are actually symbolic elements, of major national interest, that can become terrorist’s targets. On the other hand, the necessary funds for the space activities competed with the Global War’s efforts needs against Terrorism. The Space Commission was transferred (2002) to US’s Strategic Commission.


The Odyssey of the National Space Council

Another perspective of the processes regarding US’s space activity organization is the forum’s highest coordination route in the area, respectively National Space Council that reunites at the White House all the representatives of all relevant agencies in the space area.

The ancients of this council are the aeronautical and space counselling group made when NASA was made, through National Aeronautical and Space Law, in 1958. From the beginning, this group was made to act in the US President Official Executive, to serve the president. During the arm run, John F. Kennedy president made the Space Council in a viable way, under the leadership of the American vice-president. The council was described as being “absolutely essential in the space area”[8] in the version made by John F. Kennedy, the National Aeronautical and Space Council worked until 1973 (when it was abolished by Richard Nixon), then, again between 1989 and 1993. President Barack Obama came again over the idea during the 2008 campaign, but he did not applied it. After all, president Trump announced in March 2018, NSC’S appearance.

An opinion coming from the academic area shows that the viability of the Council is determined by its individuals and the ones that cater for it, by its established structure, president’s interest, by the relations with the Congress and with the relevant agencies in the area, the agenda being established by the events. On the other hand, “if from president’s perspective, the US space program is an instrument for larger economic, foreign policy and security aims, then NSC and its workforce are the ones best to connect US space capacities with these aims… but the experience shows that there is no optimum way to organize the presidential structure for space issues”.[9]

Since forever, NASA’s and Pentagon’s administration were disadvantageous to any National Space Council, seeing this corporation as a line between these structures and the president, a filter that all it does is to delay the things. This inconvenient will repeat, probably if NSC’s future will be too complicated, too far from the decision factors or if it will be too populated with proper workforce.” [10]


Organizational specifications

In organizing the Defence Department of the US, the commissions are two types: unified/assembled commissions, called Combatant Command (COCOM), commissions with four star Generals (or admirals), and directly subordinated of the Defence Secretary, respectively specialized commissions, inferior level, subordinated department/ army forces categories. The assembled commissions, which cares the US prefix, were initially geographical defined and are 6: The European Commission (USEUCOM), the Indo-Pacific (USINDOPACOM), Central (USCENTCOM, for the Extended Middle East), the North Commission (USNORTHCOM- for North America), South Commission (USSOUTHCOM- for Central and South America) and the African one (USAFRICOM). Afterward, there were created also 4 assembled commissions organized on some functional areas: Strategic (USSTRATCOM), Special Forces (USSOCOM), Transports (USTRANSCOM) and Cybernetic (USCYBERCOM).

Hence, in July 2018, the Pentagon’s space activity type are distributed between Space Commission of FAer (AFSPC)[11], Marine’s activities (mostly) by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command [12] and the one of Terrestrial Forces by Space and Missile Defence Systems Command[13]


The Legislative Process

As Congressman Mike Turner stated (Ohio republican), “creating a new category of army forces demands the Congress’s action”. Although, the US president can demand the militaries to prepare for this thing, according to next year’s law, for the fiscal year 2020. A similar advanced project failed last year, for the fiscal year 2018, and Congressman Jim Cooper said that “the historians will not forgive anything at examining this period”. Nowadays, in the competence chapter of the law project’s regarding the defence policies for the year 2019[14], the Representative’s Chamber Subcommittee for Strategic Forces of the Army Forces, the American congressmen[15] proposes an assembled commission, US Space Command, subordinated to US Strategic Command.  This version would be more than Air Force Space Command, which exists now and less than an army force, but would be “a fundamental step”, which would lead to a different army force category, but in FAer, as the marine infantry operates as a different group [16]

The Defence Secretary Deputy, Patrick Shanahan, revealed that Pentagon will give the Congress a report on this issue in August, with a possible interim report. Actually, the Naval Analysis Centre also will make a study until September, which is a process paper for creating an independent service dedicated to space. The Congress must know the details and the implications because “we do not know yet what would a different Space Force do, who will make it and how much it would cost”.[17] Among the American legislative’s officials is the opinion that states that the Congress will wait for the report’s conclusions, to understand exactly how the Pentagon can optimize space activity, before giving the law regarding US’s space forces future. Regardless, there is no consensus in the US Congress in creating new army forces categories, actually there is more opposition than support for this.


[1] The Coast Guard is a category of the army forces that is a part of the Homeland Defence Department’s structure. It was initially made in Transport Department to be able to arrest American citizens, something that the Pentagon is now allowed to do, according to the “posse comitatus” law, from the XIX century. After the terrorist attacks in 11th September, 2001, the Coast Guard was added to the Homeland Defence Department.

[2] This is why, the primordial denomination of “fight camp” was replaced with the general term “fight space”.

[3] Joan Johnson-Freese, from Newport Navy War College, Rhode Island.

[4] DARPA- Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency- a technological research institute from the Defence Department structure.

[5] NRO- National Reconnaissance Office- a coordination service of Pentagon’s satellites activities.

[6] AFSPC- Air Force Space Command.

[7] This commission hosted also the intercontinental ballistic rackets coordination, after abolishing the Strategic Air Force Commission, for 17 years, until the creation of World Fight Commission. Also, during the summer of 2018, the cyber fight component of the Air Forces will pass from the subordination of the Space Commission of FAer, under the Air Force Fight Commission of FA.

[8] Buzz Aldrin’s statement, the second person that stepped on the Moon, for space.com

[9] John Longsdom, professor of political sciences and security issues at the Space Policies Institute from George Washington University

[10] Statements and opinions of James Vedda, superior analyst at Space and Policies Strategies, Centre of Aerospace Corporation, Arlington, Virginia.

[11] Located in Peterson Air Base, Colorado.

[12] Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, from San Diego, California.

[13] Space and Missile Defence Command, from Huntsville, Alabama.

[14] Published on 14th of April, 2018.

[15] The main characters of the initiative and constant efforts are the congressmen Mike Rogers, Alabama republican, and Jim Cooper, Tennessee democrat, that supported also the next failed project.

[16] United States Marine Corps (USMC).

[17] According to Mike Turner congressman (Ohio republican).