Image Source: spaceforce.mil/Multimedia/Photos/i
As Margaret Hartmann said in an article she wrote about its creation, “Perhaps there was no way for the U.S. military to create a service focused on space without eliciting giggles and incredulity, as Americans have been fed a steady diet of militaristic science fiction for decades.”
THE COLOFUL BIRTH OF THE U.S. SPACE FORCE
Although the U.S. Space Force was created by President Donald Trump when he was in office, the idea of a Space Force or similar service had been kicked around in high military places since 1958. A similar idea was considered in 1982 by President Regan.
In 2001, after the U.S. began to employ satellites during ground combat, a proposal was considered by a commission chaired by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Commission argued for the creation of a Space Corps between 2007 and 2011, and a bipartisan proposal in the U.S. Congress would have created a U.S. Space Corps in 2017 but no one seems really enthusiastic until…
Image Source: washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint
Research indicates Trump’s statement was an ad-lib that went like this. “I was saying it the other day — ’cause we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space — I said, ‘Maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the Space Force…. And I was not really serious. And then I said, ‘What a great idea. Maybe we’ll have to do that.’”
And he did. In June 2018, he directed the Pentagon to start planning for the new branch, declaring, “We must have American dominance in space.” Actually, that’s not a bad idea. The way things are going we will most likely need that protection… not from aliens, of course, but from other humans. This political cartoon from 2018 shows one of the possible responsibilities of the Space Force. Image Source: cosmiclog.com/2019/trump-signs-the-space-force
WHAT IS THE SPACE FORCE?
The United States Space Force (USSF) is the space service branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the world’s only independent space force. It was the first new branch of the armed forces created in 73 years. It is understandably the smallest.
According to defense.gov/NewsArticle/2462396/ in January, 2021, there were 16,000 military and civilians assigned to the Space Force ‒ that number is expected to be 20,000 in the next couple two years ‒ and operating 77 space craft.
USSF is one of the one of the eight U.S. uniformed services [Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Coast Guard, Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps]. The Air Force and the Space Force are under the Department of the Air Force, one of the three civilian-led military departments within the Department of Defense.
WHAT DOES THE SPACE FORCE DO?
According to the USSF webpage, “The U.S. Space Force defends our country and freedom to operate in space, keeping it secure, stable and accessible for military space power and new waves of innovation. Once the new frontier, it now defines our daily lives and ways of war — on air, land and sea. From GPS to strategic warning and satellite communications, we defend the ultimate high ground.”
“Maybe your purpose on this planet isn’t on this planet.” Become a Guardian!
That invitation to join makes it sound like Space Force Guardians will be flying around defending us in outer space. The Outer Space Treaty prohibits weapons of mass destruction, but there are military concerns such as intelligence gathering, secure communication, and navigation.
The service’s responsibilities so far are closer to home, right here on earth, like keeping China or North Korea from blowing U.S. Satellites or stopping Russia from jamming GPS signals. In other words, defending space-based systems already in operation. Their areas of defense include:
Space Force's first astronaut
▼ Image Source: ▼leonarddavid.com/u-s-space-force ▼Colonel Michael S. Hopkins
Advance GPS technology to secure and improve communication across all military branches.
Build global networks to employ security of military space assets and offensive capabilities.
Defend communication satellites from potential threats through space and ground tactics.
● Space Operations
Support the movement of military equipment, from launching rockets to tracking space debris.
Provide focused threat analysis and comprehensive space domain awareness, from access to execution.
Seamlessly coordinate battlefield operations across all war-fighting domains and hostile environments.
To me this sounds like duplication of effort. However, since government agencies, and particularly military branches, are known for skipping kindergarten and never learning to share, it probably makes sense. At least it gives them another department to blame if something goes wrong.
However, most of us agree that unfettered access to space is vital to national defense and to our lives down below on earth. Many folks may not think about how much space systems affect our daily lives and the economics of the country and the world, but they do. For example, satellites power the GPS technology that we use daily. Don’t our lives “depend” on that smart phone? I’m glad forward thinking people have seen this soon enough to begin to make preparations.
In the mean time, NASA is still responsible for going out to the planets [for now], seeking out new life and civilizations and going somewhere no one has gone before. In fact, there is a signed Memorandum of Understanding acknowledging the joint role of both agencies.
Well, a little teasing goes with the territory, and then-President Trump’s enthusiasm about the new branch led to a few snafoos, so to speak. Much of it has to do with resemblances to space-oriented TV shows and movies.
In August 2018, when the Pentagon was still working on proposals for how the new branch might function, the Trump reelection campaign invited supporters to vote on the Space Force logo. When President Trump personally unveiled the logo it was immediately compared to Star Trek’s logo. At the time, The Atlantic pointed out that it was a “prime example of how Trump undermined the legitimacy of the service” before it even got started.
Being a Trekie myself, I don’t have a problem with the similarities in the logo. Star Trek is part of the American culture by now and has contributed in several ways to real space science. Spock, however, took exception [at least in this cartoon] and George Takei joked on Twitter about getting some royalties.
There are still those in branches of the military that believe that the US Space Force is not necessary, but it looks like the serviced is here to stay.