The Air Force Association is a major organization that advocates for the interests of the US Air Force. They are weighing in on the Trump Administration’s efforts to pursue a “Space Force”.
The Air Force Association is opposed to establishing a separate military service responsible for space in the foreseeable future. This position has nothing to do with parochialism and everything to do with operational effectiveness in space and avoiding the pitfalls of prematurely establishing a sixth military service.
The good news is the current debate about space is good for our nation’s defense. Space assets today enable weapons in air, on land, on and under the sea. As such, any current or future conflict will depend heavily on space so we must be capable of defending those assets. So, those arguing for more attention to be paid for defense of space assets so that the U.S. can continue to lead the world in space are absolutely right. However, creating an entirely new service is not the way to achieve that objective; at least not any time soon.
First, fighting from space is a concept that our nation has not yet fully debated or decided and would have significant international ramifications, must be debated nationally, and laws must be passed. “If our nation decides to deploy military weapons in space, that decision might justify a separate space force. But current plans do not go that far. Instead, the need is for constellations designed with systems to defeat adversaries’ kinetic, electronic and cyber countermeasures. This will certainly require some new systems and will certainly require trained space operators capable of employing defensive measures. A unified command supported by a rapid acquisition office should be sufficient to meet those requirements,” said former Air Force Secretary and AFA Chairman of the Board Whit Peters.
Second, military effects from air and space have long been integrated—and are today indivisible. Standing up a new service that is void of sound doctrine, will create another seam hindering joint operations and will break a critical link that has served our nation well for decades. According to Lt Gen (Ret) Dave Deptula, Dean of AFA’s Mitchell Institute, “The intellectual foundation for an effective US Space Force requires mature spacepower theory and space strategy. Both are currently inadequate and induce risk to the national security space enterprise.”
Finally, AFA President, Air Force General (Ret) Larry Spencer, previously managed the Air Force budget and knows a few things about affordability and bureaucracy. According to Spencer, “Creating a separate space force will drain billions of dollars in resources from current and future readiness. A new headquarters, and all the accouterments that accompany it, is not a cost-effective way to enhance military capability nor to improve space operations.”
Spencer went on to say, “If the issue is adding more money and resources to space, why not simply give a fraction of the cost of a new service to the Air Force and designate it for space operations. Seems to me that is a better deal for the American taxpayers.”
That said, AFA does support the reestablishment of the unified combatant command, U.S. Space Command, to help institutionalize the use of space by all service components that conduct joint force operations and to drive advancements in military space in the future. USSPACECOM proved its value in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and its 2002 disestablishment was a loss for US military space.
However, AFA questions whether the creation of a Space Development Agency will add any real value when the primary issue for space – and for all other major weapon systems – is accelerating the acquisition process to allow more rapid fielding of advanced systems. Existing defense agencies have certainly not been models of efficiency and innovation. Applying rapid acquisition concepts to space systems would be a more direct approach to accelerating the fielding of new space systems.
The US Air Force has led the Armed Forces in establishing America’s space preeminence around the world for decades. Having a national debate on fighting from space, isolating the air and space domains and pouring billions into a service that is void of sound doctrine will take away from today’s integrated force and result in real harm to our nation’s joint warfighting capability.
A full statement of AFA’s position can be found at https://www.afa.org/publications-news/news/2018/09/18/the-air-force-association-position-on-the-proposed-establishment.