A Space Corps?

Another area that certainly needs more attention than it has gotten – similar to “Internet Warfare”.
WSJ 12/22/2017     By Taylor Dinerman

America’s military satellites— tens of billions of dollars worth of equipment—are utterly defenseless. An adversary using swarms of antisatellite weapons could rapidly destroy U.S. communications, early-warning, navigation and surveillance spacecraft, leaving the military blind, deaf and lost. Without these space systems, the armed forces—on land, in the air and at sea—would find it hard to “move, shoot and communicate,” in the Army phrase.

This longstanding weakness in U.S. military posture is only beginning to be addressed. National security adviser H.R. McMaster announced in October that his team will rewrite the Obama-era rules of engagement for space warfare. To judge by President Trump’s record in Afghanistan and the Middle East, the new rules probably will give commanders more authority to respond quickly if an enemy attacks U.S. satellites. But that may not be enough to handle the threats in space, which grow more dangerous all the time.

What’s needed is a new, independent organization focused on regaining— and then keeping—military superiority in space. The House version of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act provided for the creation of a new Space Corps— a separate military service carved out of existing operations and placed under the Air Force secretary, just as the Marines are under the Navy secretary. That would have been a good step, since the new service would’ve had the single-minded focus necessary to take up the challenge of fighting beyond the atmosphere.

But the White House and the Pentagon opposed the idea, arguing that the Space Corps would represent a new layer of unneeded bureaucracy. In the end, Congress removed the provision before the bill passed. Instead Congress passed a set of reforms that strip the Air Force secretary and staff of much of their power over space-systems procurement and gives it to the deputy undersecretary of defense for space and to Air Force Space Command. Lawmakers hope that these changes will force the Pentagon to focus its efforts better.

For years the Pentagon has paid lip service to the need to do something more to protect America’s space assets. Since 2007, when China conducted its first hard-kill test of an antisatellite weapon, it has been obvious that the U.S. needs to prepare for the possibility of war in space. But for various budgetary and ideological reasons, the Air Force as a whole has done little to prepare. The Obama administration’s approach was characterized

An adversary using swarms of antisatellite weapons could leave the U.S. blind, deaf and lost.

by wishful thinking and half-baked, unfunded proposals—such as the idea that attacks on U.S. spacecraft could be deterred by international public opinion, or that “disaggregated” arrays of smaller satellites would be hard to shoot down.

The 2010 National Space Policy promised that the U.S. would “defend our space systems and contribute to the defense of allied space systems and, if deterrence fails, defeat efforts to attack them.” Yet the Obama administration did almost nothing to back up these words. It also did nothing to develop offensive capacity in space, a logical part of any deterrent. Even worse, since the Clinton administration canceled the space-based part of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative in 1993, the U.S. has failed to develop orbiting weapons that can defend the homeland from ballistic missiles.

The Obama administration’s ideological hostility to American space power was evident. It diverted resources away from military space programs, especially long-term research and development. It tried to use the arms-control process, particularly the Space Code of Conduct, to ensure that the U.S. (and, in theory, other countries) would be forever constrained from developing space weapons.

Even the Obama administration however, could not bring itself to dismantle the small Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system put in place by the George W. Bush administration— notwithstanding the Democrats’ insistence, going back to Reagan, that missile shields were both impossible and undesirable. That’s all the more reason to establish the Space Corps while Republicans still hold Congress and the White House. Once the U.S. has the capability to fight and win in space, future Democratic administrations will have to accept it.

President Trump’s new National Security Strategy acknowledges that some nations think “the ability to attack space assets offers an asymmetric advantage and as a result are pursuing a range of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.” Mr. Trump promises that if U.S. spacecraft are attacked, America will respond “at a time, place, manner and domain of our own choosing.” Strong words, especially absent the capacity to back them up. In the end only a dedicated new force can develop the systems, doctrines and tactics needed to make deterrence credible.

Mr. Dinerman writes on space policy and national security.


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