Space Force starts life at a disadvantage

So now, barring a last minute hold up, we have the Space Force President Trump wanted, a new military service dedicated as one proposed concept puts it “The mission of the US Space Force will be to deter conflict in space, enable commerce, ensure the rule of law, and should deterrence fail, secure American and allied diplomatic, information, military and economic interests in space while supporting terrestrial forces seeking the earliest possible war termination on favorable terms.” The organization’s success will be judged by its ability accomplish these tasks. Unfortunately, the Space Force starts life at a disadvantage.

Congressman Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), who has been a driving force behind this effort, is quoted saying that “We have allowed China and Russia to become our peers, not our near peers and that is unacceptable.” Indeed, when it comes to space weaponry, one knowledgeable source explained that if the Defense Department followed its usual procedures it would take us as long as ten years to catch up with Beijing and Moscow. Fortunately for us, the Space Force will be able to focus on repairing the vulnerabilities of America’s space systems without being distracted by other institutional priorities.

General David Goldfein, the outgoing Air Force Chief of Staff, has publicly confirmed that China has a full set of anti-satellite weapons, including co-orbital ones that can creep up on their targets and destroy them. They also now have high powered jammers that may be able to degrade or eliminate the U.S. GPS system and even take out our array of communication satellites that link with our intelligence gathering spacecraft.

The creation of Space Force is more important than ever, but the greatest challenge for President Trump will be to find the right military and civilian personnel to lead the new service. What the Space Force desperately needs are leaders who combine real expertise with vision, and above all: have the moral courage to go against those individuals in the military space establishment and the arms control advocates who’ve allowed the U.S. to lose the military space supremacy it once had.

This means that the men and women who’re going to lead the United States Space Force are going to have to go to Secretary Esper and to the White House and make the case for an urgent program that will quickly develop systems to defend our national space assets and to hold at risk those of our potential adversaries. And most important of all, they will have to convince a divided Congress to fund this effort.

The old procurement rules and their associated bureaucracies cannot be allowed to slow down these programs. The Space Force procurement organizations, including the new Space Development Agency must be allowed to experiment as well as the freedom to fail. The new service must also be allowed to deploy systems before they are fully certified and tested. Getting these systems into operation, even if they are less than perfect, is now more important than following rules that were laid down in the 1980s and before, which were intended to satisfy politicians who feared being accused of spending money on weapons that ‘wouldn’t work’.

As they begin to build a new organization and a new institutional culture, the men and women of the Space Force deserve to be encouraged and allowed a high level of forbearance. Their job is not going to be easy, but the reward, a future of Pax Americana in space, are worth it. The alternative may be devastating.

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