As you have probably figured out by now, I’m not a big fan of President Trump. I could easily list the reasons, but there is insufficient space in this post. But the President is like a broken clock, which does tell the right time occasionally. His recent “space force” proposal is almost one of those times, and doesn’t deserve the beatings that comedians are giving it. They are portraying the notion like Star Fleet, imaging battles in space and fights against space aliens. But that’s not what he is proposing.
This Vox article explains things very well. Think about how our military is structured. Originally, there was the Army and the Navy. Then battles began to be fought by naval groups on the ground, and a new organization was spun off: the Marine Corps. Aircraft were developed, and originally they were managed within the Army. But the segment grew to a point where it was working with Army, Navy, and Marines, and needed to be its own service. In 1947 (IIRC), the Air Force was spun off as its own service.
Now consider space. Our national dependence on space has grown: from GPS services to communications to imagery, it is vital to warfighting and defense. Space is primarily run by the Air Force, through the Space and Missile Command. SMC acquires space assets (satellites, launch systems, ground support) and provides the military and civilian support to operate these systems. There are also Army and Navy Space systems, and groups from other services that use space assets. Space is an increasingly contested area, both from commercial use, as well as other nations either putting assets in orbit, or attempting to attack or impede assets in orbit.
Trump’s call recognizes that. What he is suggesting is a new service, either at the Department level … or more likely analogous to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy. This would give increased visibility to Space and Space assets, especially as the Air Force has to balance funding between aircraft and spacecraft. On the surface, the idea makes sense. When you look at it closer, it doesn’t — not because Space isn’t important, but because Space isn’t yet at the point where it requires a duplicative bureaucracy and all the extra costs and paperwork that would come with an additional corps or service. As with the Cyber battlespace, it can be addressed best at the Command level, utilizing structures currently existing within the USAF and other national security agencies.
[ETA: My friend Miriam, over on FB, commented with a good explanation of some of the problems that exist currently, that a proposal such as this might address: “The problem is that the Air Force is doing a terrible job of meeting the space-related needs of warfighters. We have satellites on orbit for decades before warfighters can use some of their capabilities. And that is largely because the AF won’t fund capabilities that are needed primarily by the Army (GPS M-code) or Navy (comm on the move, various weather capabilities).” Having an organization that can focus funding specifically on space, and can better balance the needs of the entire user base, is beneficial. The question is what is the right way to do this without overburdening the bureaucracy, which can mushroom quickly in the military.]
So, in short, not as silly an idea as it seems on the surface, but one we don’t really need yet. Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.