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article imageOp-Ed: Space Force, or Xmas for the military industrial complex?

By Paul Wallis     Dec 25, 2019 in World
Washington - The announcement of the formation of the US Space Force has met with mixed reactions. No specific roles are outlined, and no clear strategy beyond “maintaining United States dominance” has been flagged. This is barely plausible.
The announcement came with much fanfare, not a lot of hardware, and undefined military capacity. At the moment it sounds like the intro to a 60s TV show – “Spaaaace Foooorce!” more than an actual military organization.
There is a strategic aspect in this otherwise apparently cosmetic move which takes it out of Reagan’s Star Wars class. Space is militarily important, at the moment mainly due to dependency on satellites, and the high incidence of new tech going into orbit, disclosed or otherwise.
The arrival of China in space has added some weight to this situation, and Russian hypersonic missiles may require some response through the satellite system, either armed satellites (a risky move) or real time interception data.
Lots of money in military space, how much military substance?
The other, more credible, scenario is that space tech at the public expense means more big money for the military industrial complex. You don’t have to be competent, just have a company which can sell gizmos, working or otherwise, to the US military.
The history of grandiose, unexplained planning in American history could be the basis of an encyclopedia, a big one. The US military budget since the Civil War would have been a lot leaner and meaner, and far less strenuous and more effective, without this open wallet/ Blank Checks R Us approach to military acquisitions. DARPA must be the only organization of its kind which is specifically required sort the blatant cronyism from the top quality hardware and software. The Pentagon is sort of an app for the process.
This is where Space Force’s credibility is lacking in vast quantities. There is no mention of actual combat capabilities, which is understandable, but there’s nothing else, either.
“Maintaining US dominance in space”, you say? Hardy har har.
A better way of maintaining dominance in space would be to actually do the work required. China and Russia are cited as strategic threats, with some reason, but there’s another threat which has been fully functional for decades. The threat is America’s own slapdash, bean counting, in fact downright senile approach to space budgets, research and everything else.
America’s technical capabilities are still pretty strong, and way ahead of the competition in some areas. However – Lack of vehicles has landed the US in a dependent role on Russian transport to the ISS, etc. This absurd situation, more absurd as a result of citing Russia as a threat, is beyond incompetent.
China, meanwhile, has spent some time catching up and catching up pretty quickly. China has condensed the tech gap from 50-70 years behind the US to about 10 years behind overall. They have all the basics. They now have far more experience in space operations. They are perfectly capable of building the infrastructure required for their own space force, and probably will, now that the US has publicly spread the hot air around.
China is also talking officially about creating an economic zone on the Moon, which gives them some real estate and the US not much to argue with if it happens. An economic zone could generate thousands of tricky issues for the US, if China can make trade viable. The US would be way behind, and thanks to the idiotic, clumsy trade war, very much on the wrong side of the ledger.
Russia could also benefit from Chinese presence in space in both military and economic terms. Russia definitely has the capacity to supply Chinese space operations, although not necessarily to the Moon, yet.
So where’s the “dominance”, you ask? The actual dominance is technological, but there’s not a lot of field presence in terms of hardware. There aren’t really all that many US space vehicles, etc. in actual service, at least not to anyone’s knowledge. That’s hardly a promising start. Build times, testing, systems, etc. make Space Force’s job a longer term process.
It can take decades to put these systems together, let alone make them functional and operational. Strategically the US has been basically fouling its own nest for about 30 years in these regards. Not much can be done quickly on any large scale, at least with anything currently visible.
Not necessarily an empty gesture, but…?
The US does have some actual capacity to operate forces in space. The X37B, an ongoing project, is good tech, with a lot of possible applications. A few dozen of these highly maneuverable, versatile things would make anyone think twice about possible risks to their stuff in space.
That’s nice to know, but it’s not as though Russia and China will stay behind the US forever. The technological leaps are significant, but not impossible. Also bear in mind that new materials and new techs may give them new options for systems they can currently produce, rather than go straight through the long development phases.
Strategically, it’s probable that a space force will be required at some point, but not some damn gung-ho press release. The pity of it is that this will simply expand the range of conflict, and probably provide more bases for conflict, over time. So space forces simply create an arms race in space, too.
If humanity ever evolves the basic common sense to end its constant and usually pointless war with itself, things might happen a lot faster in space. Imagine fighting the Cold War all over again, all the way to Pluto. Because that’s the very counterproductive scenario which seems to be happening. It’s not good, it’s not helpful, and it’s hardly an incentive for cooperation.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about US space force, X37b, US space budget history, Darpa, US military acquisitions history
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