At the end of April President Trump indicated once again that he intends to establish a new branch of the military with the sole aim of preparing for a war in space – as in “outer space”, that is. At a presentation of prizes to a football team at the White House, Mr Trump again spoke about adding a sixth force to the current five that make up the US Armed Forces, calling the new addition the “Space Force”.
In what might be viewed by some as typical Trump grandstanding, he had earlier announced:
“We’re getting very big in space, both militarily and for other reasons, and we are seriously thinking of the Space Force”.
He had previously floated the idea in earlier meetings and had publically made clear his concerns in March at a speech in California when he said:
“Space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air and sea. We may even have a space force.”
His comments have been supported by others in the administration. The chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee has explained that he and others:
“have worked tirelessly on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Strategic Forces subcommittee level on the need for a Space Corps outside of the Air Force for over two years now,”
“Russia and China are surpassing us in Space capabilities and we need to dedicate a separate force solely with a Space mission. The future of war will be fought in Space, and we must stay diligent and ahead of other countries for our own national security”
To be fair to Mr Trump, this is not a new proposal. President Reagan launched his Strategic Defense Initiative – dubbed Star Wars – in 1983, part of which included a plan to have laser-armed satellites capable of destroying any missiles that might be launched at the States. In 2001 a “Space Commission” was set up to look at the whole question of space warfare under the working title of “Commission to assess United States national security space management and organization”. It recommended setting up a space defence capability of some sort, recognizing that the US had become critically dependent upon space in so many ways that it’s safeguarding had to be regarded as a fundamental part of any overall strategic plan.
After Mr Trump became President, an attempt to set up a new Space corps under the overall command of the Air Force was made for the 2018 defence budgets, but not approved. However, it did result in a series of measures being adopted to improve the US National Space Security effort. A number of attempts have been made to re-focus on efforts to counter the potential risk to the US by way of some form of assault starting from space (for example, an attack on communications and GPS satellites). The most prominent of these is the initiative to set up “a subordinate unified command for space under U.S. Strategic Command that would be responsible for joint space warfighting operations.”
However, even if Congress were to pass the necessary legislation, some say that it would be five or ten years before a separate “Space Force” might have even a limited operational capability. But during that time it seems likely that the US will be implementing a wide range of measures under the auspices of the USAF and other agencies to address the perceived growing capability gap between it and its rivals, Russia and China.
Would this mean a real Flash Gordon patrolling the skies? Highly unlikely is the answer; the aim would be to have remotely-controlled or semi-autonomous systems able to survey and then defend huge areas of space above the earth. In this game, timing will be everything and the need to get a human to the right place to then deal with a problem would be an impossible task given the vast distances and short reaction times involved.