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Thread: Space Warfare

  1. #491

    China And Russia Test The U.S. In Space

    Mar 24, 2017

    Jen DiMascio | Aviation Week & Space Technology

    China and Russia are engaging in hybrid warfare in space, says a member of former President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council. “They are conducting probing, provocative actions just below the threshold of any meaningful U.S. or allied response,” charges Roger Robinson, who heads RWR Advisory Group, a security and business consultancy. Like the “little green men” who helped provoke conflict in Ukraine, the techniques—using cyberattacks, radio-frequency interference and orbiting satellites that linger near U.S. and allied spacecraft—are temporary and reversible. “If you look at the way China and Russia are playing their cards, it is a classic hybrid warfare gambit,” he says.*

    Robinson, also chairman of the Prague Security Studies Institute, asked Vice Adm. Charles Richard, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, about the “space hybrid warfare” tactics during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.*


    “We have to rapidly get past the academic debate and get into the specific actions we’re ready, willing and allowed to take,” says Vice Adm. Charles Richard. Credit: U.S. Navy

    The question is how to respond to a competition that is “just short of war,” Richard says, adding that the U.S. needs to do a better job of collaborating with its allies to figure out exactly what’s happening in orbit. He also says the military should think about fundamental deterrence—denying a competitor’s objective or imposing unacceptable costs on the adversary—in other theaters of war. “We have to rapidly get past the academic debate and get into the specific actions we’re ready, willing and allowed to take,” Richard says.*

    Such responses should include naming and shaming adversaries in select instances and imposing economic harm on state-run companies involved, Robinson says. If the kind of cyberintrusion that happened during the 2016 presidential election had happened on Reagan’s watch, “We would have taken that on and inflicted considerable pain on the foreign capital responsible,” he says. “That’s not where I think we are today.”

    Instable Stability

    Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is glad President Donald Trump has signed a new NASA authorization bill designed to keep the space agency on a steady course. Now he wants to change it. “We have the chance to think bigger and bolder; in this coming Congress I hope to take up another commercial space-launch piece of legislation and a longer-term NASA authorization,” Cruz told the Commercial Spaceflight Federation one day after watching Trump sign the space bill he helped shepherd to passage.

    He described the NASA Transitional Authorization Act of 2017 as “a transitional authorization as we get a new administration in place,” but offered no details on what the new legislation would contain. “I’m going to start by listening, which is I think the right approach to take, particularly on a long-term vision.” Cruz, who was introduced by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.)—a contender to become the next NASA administrator—terms the expectation that Vice President Mike Pence soon will be named chairman of a reconstituted National Space Council responsible for coordinating federal space activities “a very positive development.” “President Trump wants to be bold,” says Cruz, who lost to Trump in last year’s Republican presidential primary race. “That’s a terrific characteristic in a president, particularly when it comes to something like space. It’s easy to be timid and tepid and take tiny, little incremental steps. Whatever the next four years hold, I think it is unlikely that we will be applying the adjectives ‘timid’ and ‘tepid’.”

    Flying Wedge

    The new NASA authorization directs the next NASA administrator to deliver a plan for the International Space Station (ISS) “to transition in a step-wise approach from the current regime that relies heavily on NASA sponsorship to one where NASA could be one of many customers of a low-Earth-orbit, non-governmental human spaceflight enterprise.” At a March 22 hearing on what will happen to the ISS after its funding expires in 2024, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Science space subcommittee, warned that “the longer we operate the ISS, the longer it will take to get to Mars.” William Gerstenmaier, associate NASA administrator for human exploration and operations, says the station has consumed $67 billion to date, including space shuttle flights to build it, and costs the U.S. about $3 billion a year to operate. That funding wedge could be available for exploration beyond low Earth orbit if the ISS is terminated or transferred to a private operator. So far, cautions Mary Lynne Dittmar, executive director of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, it would be difficult to close a business case for totally private operations, given the $1.7 billion a year NASA is paying to deliver crew and cargo to the station. “One of the questions is when are you generating enough business that you can start shifting the transportation cost back to the people who are actually generating the business, in other words, pay for your ride?” she says. And Gerstenmaier notes that the ISS is a valuable testbed for the life-support and other technology that will be needed to sustain crews on missions to Mars. The transition plan is due on Capitol Hill Dec. 1. Stay tuned.

    —With Frank Morring Jr. in Washington

  2. #492

    How Should U.S. Military Change Its Space Operations?

    Mar 29, 2017

    Lara Seligman | Aviation Week & Space Technology

    An often overlooked core function of the U.S. Air Force is its stewardship of space. From the private citizen sending a tweet to the president’s ability to order a nuclear strike, the U.S. relies on satellite technologies fielded by the military’s air service.

    But as space becomes more contested, the government is taking a hard look at how to better manage military assets in that domain. The Air Force is pushing to maintain its lead role, but other ways of managing U.S. space operations are being proposed. Among them are a separate Space Corps, modeled on the U.S. Marine Corps, or a Space Guard, inspired by the U.S. Coast Guard.

    Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) has operated for decades in a relatively benign environment, says Maj. Gen. David Thompson, AFSPC vice commander. Operators are accustomed to keeping an eye out for natural threats such as space debris, background radiation or solar storms, and taking appropriate action to move spacecraft out of harm’s way.

    The Fight for Space
    • GAO, Congress are scrutinizing how Pentagon manages its space assets
    • USAF wants to maintain its role as Pentagon’s point man in space
    • USAF considers equipping spacecraft with offensive, defensive capabilities


    But all that is changing. Potential adversaries are beginning to field offensive capabilities in space, from electronic-jamming devices to anti-satellite weapons that could destroy U.S. spacecraft, says Thompson. To counter the emerging threat, the Air Force is looking to fortify its space infrastructure.

    “It’s become very clear, based on the activities of those who could be our adversaries in the future that they intend to challenge our ability to operate in space,” says Thompson. “While we don’t want to see that war extend to space, we have to recognize it might, and we have to be prepared.”

    And Vice Adm. Charles Richard, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, points out that space, a domain that enables other domains such as cyber, ground, land and sea, needs to be integrated. “To wage war effectively, we need to be operating in all domains,” he says.

    The push comes as the Pentagon faces pressure to better manage its space assets. Although the Air Force is currently responsible for more than 90% of the Defense Department’s space enterprise, defense space leadership responsibilities—including acquisition—are fragmented across an astounding 60 government stakeholders. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report last year warning that this fragmentation is contributing to program delays, cancellations, cost increases and inefficient operations. Congress is also taking an interest: Lawmakers wrote in the fiscal 2016 defense policy bill that they are concerned by the disjointed nature of the military’s space acquisition.


    The Air Force is responsible for more than 90% of the Pentagon’s space assets, including the GPS satellite constellation. Credit: U.S. Air Force

    This scrutiny could potentially threaten the Air Force’s long-standing role as the Defense Department’s point organization for space. The deputy secretary of defense designated the secretary of the Air Force as the Principal Defense Department Space Advisor (PDSA) in 2015, but it is possible the Air Force could lose that position. The GAO report noted that officials and experts are “skeptical” that the move has been effective in consolidating fragmented leadership responsibilities, and some thought the PDSA authority would be better placed under the auspices of the secretary of defense.

    “Why reorganize military space?” asks Maj. Brent Ziarnick, an assistant professor at the Air University’s Air Command and Staff College. “Space is a different domain from air, land and sea. A new organization is needed to develop new ways of thinking,” he says. “The current Air Force structure has shortchanged new needs. The Air Force is too focused on its core mission; it is an air force, not an air and space force.”

    Col. Michael Smith, a professor at the Air University’s School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, is even more harsh in his assessment. “The Air Force is to space as the air guard is to music,” he told a panel at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington in March. “The core competency of the Air Force is air power; other contingencies, other priorities fall off the table . . . until the Army and Navy tell us to bring them back.”

    The Air Force appears to be launching a fierce campaign to prove the skeptics wrong. In recent months, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has repeatedly stressed the service’s history of safeguarding space, which dates back to 1954. Thompson echoed Goldfein’s comments, saying the Air Force needs to take the lead in developing the new command-and-control constructs, tools and capabilities across the military that will ensure the U.S. maintains its edge in space.

    That means “taking a lead role in the coordination and synchronization of all space activities that the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard bring,” says Thompson.

    “We need to establish some kind of [space] organization with autonomy within the Air Force,” says Smith. There is an opportunity to create a Space Corps within the Air Force, he says, in the same way the Army Air Corps was formed within the Army as a precursor to an independent Air Force.

    The proposal for a separate Space Guard differs in that, like the Coast Guard—which started life under the Treasury Department, is now part of the Homeland Security Department, but would operate under the Navy in wartime—it would “still be a military force, but not war-focused,” says Ziarnick. “It would focus on safety and security, which provide a benefit in peacetime.”

    Thompson, meanwhile, detailed several initiatives the Air Force is already undertaking to bolster its space infrastructure. One effort is distributing the mission across a wider array of in-orbit systems—increasing redundancy and minimizing the damage caused by one individual attack, he says. This can also be applied to ground control stations: The more the U.S. can distribute its global satellite control network, the less devastating a cyberattack against a specific node will be.

    “If in fact you distribute the systems and the functions and the tasks wide enough, it might mean that there is very little benefit in the adversary trying to attack you,” Thompson says. “For example, the GPS constellation has 30 satellites on orbit today, so if an adversary were to attack one or two, or perhaps even five, the overall effect on the GPS constellation would still be relatively minor.”

    The Air Force is also looking at equipping spacecraft with both offensive and defensive capabilities. One idea is making sure vulnerable spacecraft can carry extra fuel onboard that they can use to outmaneuver an incoming threat. The Air Force is exploring ways to incorporate this into the Space Based Infrared System (for early missile warning) and Advanced Extremely High-Frequency satellites (for protected military communications), says Thompson.

    There may be opportunities for the Air Force to take advantage of commercial advances in satellite technology, Thompson points out. The commercial and civil markets have a “tremendous” remote-sensing capability that the military could leverage for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, he says. The Pentagon can either buy these commercial capabilities directly, or let commercial operators operate on the government’s behalf.

    Most important, the Pentagon needs to have integrated operations across the joint force equipped to detect threats and effectively counter them, Thompson says. To this end, the Air Force recently stood up the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center at Schriever AFB, Colorado Springs, to unify space defense efforts between the Defense Department and the intelligence community. It also serves as a hub for operational collaboration and experimentation on new space system tactics, techniques and procedures.

    Congress, however, is looking at a command structure for an autonomous Space Corps, says Smith. He suggests that AFSPC be turned into a Space Corps within the Air Force by transferring people and coding assets. “The relationship of the Space Corps to the Air Force would be the same as the Marine Corps to the Navy,” he says. U.S. Space Command, merged with Strategic Command in 2020, would be reestablished as a functional command supported by the Space Corps.

    “We are naturally the service that can and should lead the way in figuring out how to synchronize, integrate and put all those capabilities together,” argues Thompson. “If you have capabilities in air, space and cyber and integrate them effectively, the whole is absolutely greater than the sum of the parts in terms of the effect you can deliver for the security of the nation and the rest of the joint force.”

    Editor’s note: This article was updated to include comments by Vice Adm. Charles Richard, Maj. Brent Ziarnick and Col. Michael Smith.
    Last edited by buglerbilly; 29-03-17 at 05:30 AM.

  3. #493

    Startup Could Revolutionize Data Collection From Space

    Mar 30, 2017

    Jen DiMascio | Aviation Week & Space Technology

    York Space Systems plans to do for satellites what Ford did for the Model T. The Denver-based startup plans to mass-produce satellite buses, thereby drastically reducing their price and enabling the collection of all kinds of data from space.

    “One-half of the cost of the satellite is the bus, and this bus will be about one-quarter of the price of what satellite operators are currently paying,” says Chuck Beames, executive chairman of York Space Systems.

    The rapid advance of technology that enables satellite companies to use off-the-shelf components has driven down the cost of cubesats, says Tom Stroup, president of the Satellite Industries Association.

    There is a huge potential market for Earth observation and data collection from space, Stroup adds. “The more data that is available, the more people will see opportunities to utilize that data,” he says, noting that before the marriage of wireless devices and the internet, there was no market for applications that are now considered indispensable by many consumers.


    CAID Industries, York’s mechanical structure supplier, conducts a quality assurance verification test. Credit: CAID Industries

    The company’s focus has been to optimize performance and ease of manufacturing, an approach that it anticipates will deliver significant cost reductions. The highly automated process includes very little touch labor. Many of the machines in the production facility on the campus of the Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) will be operated by just two people.

    York’s business model is to prepare buses built to standard interfaces that can be modified for individual sellers across a wide range of uses: Earth observation, weather, communications and other military missions. If the car analogy isn’t enough, Beames, who came to York from Vulcan Aerospace and once served as the principal director of space and intelligence systems in the Pentagon, likens the development of a mass-produced satellite to the birth of a computer powerful enough to come into homes and then revolutionizing small businesses via the widespread use of spreadsheets.

    Low-cost spacecraft will enable entrepreneurs who want to quickly demonstrate a new idea to send it to low Earth orbit on a highly reliable bus, Beames says. “The money is made with the instrument that attaches to the bus,” he adds.

    York’s bus will be slightly bigger than a cubesat. The company’s S-class bus has a mass of 65 kg (143 lb.). It uses a three-axis stabilized spacecraft that can support 85 kg of payload, providing 100 watts of orbit average power. According to York’s website, the base price is $675,000.

    “York will manufacture three spacecraft this year, and plans to have the first unit qualified by December. Within the next 2-3 years, we intend to be able to produce about 200 spacecraft per year, “says York co-founder and CEO Dirk Wallinger. More expensive models add flight computers, memory units or radar transmitters.

    Despite the seeming dominance of Earth-observation companies such as DigitalGlobe, UrtheCast and recent new entrants to the field such as BlackSky Global and Planet, Beames says the market for spectral data is largely untapped. Satellite imagery can zero in on tiny spots on the ground to identify which areas need more, or less, water. Mining companies can use spectral data to find the best places to dig. “I think all of those industries and [makers of] the spacecraft that will be used to optimize those industries will be very interested in a spacecraft that at a minimum uses the York bus, but they very well may be interested in having York build their spacecraft for them. A lot of the companies are seeing money in data or data services,” Beames says.


    CAID Industries manufactured York’s prototype S-class platform at its facility in Tucson, Arizona. Credit: CAID Industries

    The York bus and its proprietary sensors will also be capable of national security missions, including early warning and protected satellite communications. York has been involved in discussions with the companies that are planning to seek contracts for a future Space-based Infrared Satellite program or a future Advanced Extremely High-Frequency satellite mission.

    As the U.S. Air Force looks to disaggregate its large constellations in the future, Beames says York is well-suited to the missions. Although it may not be as capable as the military’s giant geostationary satellites, these spacecraft will be very capable and can be quickly reconstituted or replaced. Plus, the satellites will use off-the-shelf processor technology.

    York’s model is to pursue partnerships with companies it sees as the “best in breed,” Beames says. To that end, it has lined up partnerships with AAC Microtec, AMR Propulsion Innovations, Atlas Networks, Braxton Technologies, BridgeSat, RBC Signals, SAIC, TriSept Corp. and MSU Denver.

    For example, York has signed a cooperative research and development agreement with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command regarding an on-orbit demonstration of the Harbinger Mission. In addition to demonstrating York’s S-class platform, the mission will fly Iceye’s X-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR), an AMR-fielded electric propulsion system, an X-band data link and BridgeSat’s laser communications terminal.

    Iceye is a Finland-based startup that plans to launch a radar imaging service that can see through all weather conditions, cloud cover and darkness. “The mission with York, scheduled for launch late this year or in 2018, would demonstrate Iceye’s instrument and operations before it moves forward with a full commercial constellation, Wallinger says.

    “The ability to deploy and field a SAR solution of this caliber wasn’t even possible five years ago, so we look forward to continuing to work with Iceye to support our first launch,” Wallinger says.

  4. #494

    SpaceX reuses Falcon 9 rocket, but long road ahead for military adoption

    By: Valerie Insinna, March 31, 2017 (Photo Credit: SpaceX)



    WASHINGTON — SpaceX made history on Thursday night with the successful launch of a reused Falcon 9 rocket, marking the first time a commercial company has been able to send a previously-launched rocket into space a second time.

    SpaceX won’t deploy a national security payload until at least 2018, when a Falcon 9 launches a GPS III satellite into space, but Thursday’s launch could open the door for less expensive Defense Department space missions in the future. However, analysts told Defense News it could take years, perhaps even a decade, for reusable rockets to become a regular part of military space launch.

    The Falcon 9 lifted off yesterday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as planned at about 6:27 p.m. Eastern time. The first and second stages separated, and about nine minutes after takeoff, SpaceX tweeted that the first stage had landed on Of Course I Still Love You, the company’s autonomous drone ship.

    While yesterday’s launch will likely stoke Defense Department interest in reusability, near term impact will likely be limited, said Bill Ostrove, an Aerospace Systems Analyst for Forecast International.

    “The Defense Department is very conservative in the way they manage their launch services right now,” he told Defense News on March 31.

    “Because launches have traditionally been so expensive, they’ve kind of gotten into a cycle where they pack as many capabilities into each satellite as possible to maximize what is going up with each launch. What that’s created is a situation is a situation where they really have to focus on launch reliability, and that reinforces the high expense of the launches.”

    The Pentagon will likely remain in an observation mode while the SpaceX continues testing reusable launch vehicles, waiting for the company to prove that its technology is reliable, said Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation.

    Even if the military is years away from adopting reusable launch systems themselves, the department may still be able to financially benefit from the commercial sector’s use. SpaceX founder Elon Musk believes he can substantially lower the cost of a Falcon 9 launch — currently valued at about $62 million — “by as much as a factor of a hundred” if the rocket can be flown many times like a commercial airplane.

    “Right now we don’t know exactly what SpaceX’s pricing plans are going to be,” Ostrove said. “It would be sort of be a logical move to, if they are going to use a launch vehicle 10 or 15 times, to spread the cost over those 10 or 15 times, rather than the first customer pay full price and then lower prices for everyone else.”

    In that model, the Defense Department theoretically could purchase the first launch, with commercial companies purchasing subsequent ones.

    But Weeden pointed out that SpaceX launches for the military cost considerably more than for commercial customers because of Pentagon requirements, which demand greater financial oversight as well as additional checks of the launch system itself.

    “SpaceX is going to continue to be able to bid on Air Force contracts like the GPS. In theory those might get cheaper over time,” he said. “But even if there are savings there, I don’t think it will have a huge impact. Those savings might be offset by all the additional requirements that DoD already has for those particular launches.”

    Additionally, the Falcon 9 launch vehicle doesn’t meet the requirements to carry many military payloads, which tend to be larger and heavier, he said.

    “It won’t be until Falcon Heavy comes along until SpaceX itself will be able to say they can launch a lot of the biggest and heaviest national security payloads. And that’s of course still a ways off. And reusability is even further away,” Weeden said.

    If the Air Force begins fielding smaller, more disaggregated satellites — an idea officials have championed because of the benefits to survivability — it might also be willing to experiment with reusable rockets because there would be less financial risk involved if a launch failed, Ostrove said.

    But it’s unclear what the path forward would look like, he added. The Falcon 9 is already certified for national security missions, but the Pentagon has no precedent for validating reusable launch systems.

    “It’s hard to say at this point how extensive of a process they would want do use, if they would want to start from scratch [and certify it] as if it was a new launch vehicle, or treat it like a new variant, which would be a much more abbreviated process,” he said.

    SpaceX isn’t the only company pursuing reusability, but it is the furthest along. Blue Origin is developing an orbital launch vehicle called New Glenn, which would have a reusable first stage like the Falcon 9. United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, plans to make the first stage engines of the Vulcan reusable. However, that functionality will not be available for years after its first flight, scheduled for 2019.*

  5. #495

    Orbital ATK Completes Major Development Milestones in Next Generation Launch Vehicle Program

    (Source: Orbital ATK; issued April 03, 2017)

    DULLES, Va. --- Orbital ATK (OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today announced that it has made important progress over the past 18 months in developing advanced solid rocket propulsion and other technologies to be used in a new generation of intermediate- and large-class space launch vehicles.

    Through a combination of internal investment and government funding from an Air Force contract awarded in late 2015 by the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Systems Directorate, the company’s Flight Systems Group recently completed design reviews, facility upgrades and tooling fabrication, and has now begun early production of development hardware for its Next Generation Launch (NGL) system.

    The company’s modular NGL rocket family will be capable of launching a wide variety of national security payloads, as well as science and commercial satellites that are too large to be launched by its current fleet of Pegasus, Minotaur and Antares space launch vehicles.

    The NGL vehicles will operate from both east and west coast launch facilities and will share common propulsion, structures and avionics systems with other company programs, including its smaller space launch vehicles as well as missile defense interceptors, target vehicles and strategic missile systems.

    “The NGL program is a great example of how industry and government can work together to develop an American launch system to support national security space launch requirements,” said Scott Lehr, President of Orbital ATK’s Flight Systems Group. “Orbital ATK is well-positioned to introduce an intermediate- and large-class family of launch vehicles by leveraging the strengths of the merged company to achieve low-cost assured space access for current and future national security payloads and other satellites.”

    Through commonality of hardware and other economies of scale, Orbital ATK’s proposed launch system will also reduce the cost of other U.S. Government rocket and missile programs managed by the Air Force, Navy, NASA and Missile Defense Agency, saving taxpayers up to $600 million on these programs over a ten-year period.

    Over the past 18 months, Orbital ATK has successfully completed critical design reviews for major elements of the company’s solid propulsion stages, along with preliminary vehicle-level and launch site infrastructure reviews. The company has also refurbished a 60,000-square-foot production building, including installation of automated tooling, cranes and other equipment to enable the manufacture of large-diameter composite-case rocket motors. Recently, the company completed the manufacturing of prototype motor test articles to be used in verification activities this summer.

    “The Orbital ATK NGL team, which now numbers several hundred engineers and technicians, has made tremendous progress since late 2015. Building on this work, we are looking forward to providing the Air Force and other customers with a highly-reliable and cost-effective launch system within the next four years,” said Lehr.

    The next phase of the program is expected to commence when the Air Force awards Launch Services Agreements in early 2018, which would entail full vehicle and launch site development, with work taking place at company facilities in Promontory and Magna, Utah; Iuka, Mississippi; Chandler, Arizona; and Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

    Orbital ATK is a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies. The company designs, builds and delivers space, defense and aviation systems for customers around the world, both as a prime contractor and merchant supplier. Its main products include launch vehicles and related propulsion systems; missile products, subsystems and defense electronics; precision weapons, armament systems and ammunition; satellites and associated space components and services; and advanced aerospace structures. Headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, Orbital ATK employs approximately 12,500 people in 18 states across the U.S. and in several international locations.

    -ends-

  6. #496

    Opinion: Why America Needs A Space Corps

    Apr 5, 2017

    M. V. Smith | Aviation Week & Space Technology

    American space power stagnated under the stewardship of the U.S. Air Force a long time ago. Congress noted this over 25 years ago, but nothing has been done to fix it. The situation has only gotten worse: The U.S. is increasingly dependent on satellites for economic and military purposes, but those satellites lie undefended and highly vulnerable to attack. Meanwhile, foreign threats grow. The Air Force has done nothing substantive to deter attacks or to defend against them because the service’s interests lie elsewhere. Congress should create an autonomous U.S. Space Corps in the department of the Air Force (as the Marine Corps is to the Navy) as an initial step to set American space power on a path to reach its full potential.

    In 2001, the so-called Rumsfeld Space Commission was cited as a last chance for the Air Force to get it right in space before Congress would act to reorganize the national security space community, possibly by creating a separate space force. The Rumsfeld Commission made several recommendations to advance space power, most of which were implemented begrudgingly by the Air Force. The service’s airpower culture has always struggled to accommodate “space geeks” as equals. However, the Air Force took advantage of the distraction caused by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to reverse course.


    Credit: Lockheed Martin

    Satellites have become America’s golden goose and Achilles’ heel. Space is often treated like the “red-headed stepchild,” noted Mike Rogers last December, when he was chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. “What we have got to recognize is that our adversaries know that we cannot fight and win a war without using space, and they have developed offensive capabilities that we have not done a good enough job of being prepared to respond to,” Rogers added.

    In January, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pointed to the rapidly advancing threats. “Russia and China are developing military capabilities explicitly to deny U.S. forces the use of space, including by targeting our satellites,” he said. It seems the U.S.’s dependence on space systems grows, but the threats grow faster.

    American space power stalled under the Air Force for easily understood organizational and bureaucratic reasons. Every year the service faces unexpected bills. There are always new conflicts, crises, contingencies or cost overruns in aircraft programs that require a reshuffling of the budget. Airpower is the top priority, so space dollars pay the bills.

    Space power simply cannot receive the priority it deserves inside the Air Force budgeting process. It is a cultural issue. Rand analyst Carl Builder pointed out in The Icarus Syndrome: The Role of Air Power Theory and the Evolution of the Air Force that space power is a competing faction airpower advocates must hold at bay. No matter how vital space power becomes to the nation, if it is relegated to a supporting role inside the Air Force, or any other service or agency, it will always receive short shrift.

    The problem is more complicated than competition between airpower and space power. The Air Force has figured out a clever way to rob from the space budget in order to pay bills on the aviation side and then get more money from Congress. As Air Force Maj. Gen (ret.) James B. Armor, Jr., described it in 2008, “Every year there’s a process game where the Air Force cuts the space budget and the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] and Congress, with the loud support of the services and agencies that depend on Air Force space systems, restore it. Cynics point out that this is a Machiavellian way to increase the total Air Force budget—which works.”

    The principal interest of the Air Force in space has less to do with securing America’s vital national interests there and more to do with using the space budget for other purposes.

    Congress created the U.S. Army Air Corps and later the U.S. Army Air Force to give airmen autonomy within the Army and the ability to grow American airpower to its fullest potential. They succeeded. Now Congress must create the U.S. Space Corps to give space professionals similar budgetary and personnel autonomy within the Air Force, along with a mandate to grow U.S. space power to its fullest potential.

    This is the century wherein humans will settle the Moon and Mars, harvest mineral resources from asteroids, and broadcast space solar power safely and cleanly wherever human and machine activity ensues. These transformative actions will take human interests far beyond Earth. Soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen will remain Earthcentric thinkers and warfighters. Only an autonomous U.S. Space Corps—and eventually an independent U.S. Space Force—can develop beyond-Earth thinkers.

    U.S. Air Force Col. (ret.) M.V. Smith is a professor of strategic studies at the School of Professional Military Education at Air University. The opinions expressed are his own, not those of the U.S. Air Force, Air University or Aviation Week.

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