Why The Space Force Makes Some Sense, And Why It Doesn’t

Trump signs one of his biggest pet projects into reality at exactly the same time the final Star Wars trilogy movie comes out…

U.S. Air Force photo of the X-37 Orbital Test Vehicle

But we’re not going to see soldiers immediately flying militarized space craft around, waging inter-galactic wars. (Also, we’re well aware Star Wars is set in the past.) Nor are you going to be able to walk in to a recruiting station right away and sign up.

Still, eventually the Space Force could be one of the biggest pieces of President Trump’s legacy. Easily even bigger than “the wall”. But not right away.

The biggest obvious question is why break it off from the Air Force, when the Air Force already has a Space Command? Good question. The last time a new branch of the military was formed was in 1947 when the Air Force broke off from the Army (even though the Army still to this day operates almost as many planes as the Air Force, and the Navy flies planes too). But that was also after two wars in which the U.S. built a huge presence in the air, which hadn’t existed before. And there’s also the little matter of NASA, which is independent and civilian. But has in its history danced on the edge of international conflict many times (though not recently). Does that get sucked into the new entity at some point? We’d guess probably. Because sufficient funding for NASA has hardly ever been a given, and the agency’s budget is minuscule compared to any branch of the military. But make space essential to national security, and who’ll be able to say no?

This is not the logo of the newly created Space Force. It’s the logo of the U.S. Space Command, which the Space Force is replacing. The Space Force does have a Facebook page, but it doesn’t seem to have a fully official logo yet.

In fact, the reason the Space Force exists now as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, is that Democrats used it to bargain with Republicans and the President in exchange for some of their own priorities, like a long-awaited pay raise for federal workers. Which of course Trump took all the credit for, IN ALL CAPS. Even though you may remember Trump personally cancelled that pay raise last year, saying a “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare” gave him the authority to do so, only he keeps saying he’s making the economy boom like never before.

And, in fact, General John Raymond, who was in charged of U.S. Space Command, will initially run Space Force. Right now, as Defense News points out, he’s the only person officially serving in the Space Force. He’ll report to the Secretary of the Air Force, much as the Commandant of the U.S. Marines reports to the Navy Secretary. The Space Force will initially expand to around 16,000, at first all transfers from the Air Force. The Army and Navy won’t initially have a major role. And the Marines may have to start calling themselves just “the proud”, because Space Force at first at least, will be “the few”, by far. The Space Force will amount to only around 1% of active duty U.S. military personnel.

Still, the more legs the military industrial complex has to stand on, the more stable it’ll be. And the military is a real cash cow for American companies, and one of the few remaining manufacturing areas that continue to create good, high paying jobs within the U.S. That’s because for security reasons, most (but not all) U.S. weapons manufacturing happens in the U.S. And the military is willing to pay a premium, because they’re paying with taxpayer money, and nobody’s really going to support not defending the country, so they’re not terribly price-sensitive, which is silly, considering how much they buy. Aside from a few isolated high-profile instances, bringing the cost of weapons production down is one promise Trump hasn’t kept, at least not yet. Instead, he’s encouraged continued expansion of spending on the military and everything else—deficits be damned!—and he’s worked hard to expand the variety of U.S.-made arms available to counties that weren’t allowed to buy some of them before. Space Force will enhance this on all sides. Especially since outer space is still a big focus for Russia and is huge for China, which is inventing all kinds of new uses for satellite tracking. All of which will be for sale.

So the U.S. Space Force will likely take over Air Force operations that relate to satellites. And according to Popular Mechanics, that’s probably mostly what Space Force will be about at least in the early years, and won’t go around shooting soldiers into space probably not for a while. It will also probably take over projects like the X-37 Orbital Test Vehicle, which the Air Force has been developing with Boeing and NASA going on 20 years.

Technology like GPS is already behind virtually every major military decision and operation these days and while there probably doesn’t need to be a separate branch of the military just for maintenance of satellites, as other countries get better at satellite technology too, there may come a time when some country will attempt to gain strategic advantage over another country by shooting satellites down or otherwise disabling them. That’s what Space Force likely will be initially looking into.

Of course, satellites can also be disabled from the ground, where they’re controlled, by attacking the technology that controls them. Which almost argues for the need for a “Cyber Force” as a separate branch of the military. More so than Space Force. Hackers, not astronauts. At least for the foreseeable future. And in fact there is currently a U.S. Cyber Command, which operates as what’s called a “unified combatant command”, which puts it exactly on the same footing currently as the U.S. Space Command. But it’s only the Space Command that’s being elevated. Which leads us back to the question we started with: Why? Or maybe we just don’t dream as big as the President.