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2018 Gen. Bernard A Schriever Memorial Essay Contest Airman/NCO Category Winner: "Command of Space"

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Italian Air Marshall Guillo Douhet’s maxim of Airpower[1] in the 20th century equally applies to Spacepower in the 21st. In order to assure an adequate national defense, it is necessary -- and sufficient -- to be in a position, in case of war, to conquer the command of space. The United States (US) has enjoyed uncontested usage of space in support of global military operations for decades. Yet the resurgent and revisionist powers of Russia and China have ushered in a new era of great power competition. Both recognize the combat advantage the US military gains from its space capabilities and are developing doctrine and systems to deny and degrade the US’ advantage in a future conflict. The US must employ the following mix of strategies, policies and systems to strengthen US deterrence and dissuade adversaries from extending conflict into space. First, the Department of Defense (DoD) must employ a Spacepower Doctrine that actually recognizes space as a warfighting domain. Second, the US must stop funding Russia’s space program, increase funding to the American space industry and deepen cooperation with partner space programs to successfully achieve a balance of power in space. Third, the US military must incentivize space-focused education for its future leaders. All three points will help ‘generate decisive and sustained U.S. military advantages’ through a ‘more lethal force, strong alliances and partnerships, American technological innovation, and a culture of performance.’[2] This essay will briefly define key concepts of great power relations and follow with an examination of the three aforementioned recommendations.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis cited great power competition as the primary focus of US national security and labelled China and the resurgent Russia as revisionist powers - both seeking to establish ‘a world consistent with their authoritarian models.’[3] According to Realist Political Theory, ‘great powers’ are states that seek opportunities to maximize their share of world power vis-à-vis other states in the International Political System.[4] States satisfied with the current balance of power adopt a strategy of ‘status quo,’ whereas states determined to use force to revise the balance of power in their favor adopt a ‘revisionist’ strategy. Throughout history, revisionist states have become too powerful and other states balanced against them. More recent examples include Napoleonic France, Imperial Germany and Nazi Germany.[5] Revisionist powers, such as China and Russia will typically target the non-vital interests of their great power rivals. Therefore the US must strengthen deterrence by denial, and limit the offensive capabilities of these revisionist powers.[6] However, space now constitutes a vital interest; it has become critical to the US’ warfighting advantage and the US must strengthen its deterrence accordingly.

First, the DoD must employ a Spacepower Doctrine that actually recognizes space as a warfighting domain. Toward a Theory of Spacepower defines Spacepower as consisting of capabilities whose most basic purpose is controlling and regulating the use of space while denying its use to enemies. Just as theorists first envisaged Airpower as a means to enhance warfighting on land, they eventually considered the air as a domain to be defended for its own sake. Space as a warfighting domain similarly evolved from an arena of superpower competition in the Cold War to an arena where at least 35 spacefaring countries now participate. Hence, the 2006 US National Space policy asserts that national security is critically and increasingly dependent upon space capabilities. For the US military, ‘space has become an essential setting for precision, stealth, command and control, intelligence collection, and maneuverability of weapons systems.’[7] Yet US space capabilities face increasing threats. At this year’s Defense One Technology Summit, General Ashley of the Defense Intelligence Agency assessed that China and Russia are developing new space-based weapons capable of interdicting satellites from both the ground and space alike; those weapons will be ready in the near future.[8] The US must counter from a position of strength. Only a US preponderance of Spacepower, capable of surviving a large-scale offensive while still able to deliver a crippling retaliatory strike, will credibly dissuade adversaries from extending conflict into the space domain. US Spacepower Doctrine must therefore recognize space as more than just a means to enhance warfighting on land, air and sea. It must prioritize space as a real warfighting domain unto itself, one where only lethal offensive capabilities will ensure an uncontested supremacy of space operations.

Second, the US must stop funding Russia’s space program, increase funding to the American space industry and deepen cooperation with partner space programs to successfully achieve a balance of power in space against Russia and China. After the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) retired its space shuttle program in 2011, the US has relied upon Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry US astronauts to and from the International Space Station at an exorbitant cost of up to $18 million per seat. According to a NASA Office of Inspector General report in 2016, ‘Had the Agency met its original goal of securing commercial crew transportation by calendar year 2015, NASA could have avoided paying Russia close to $1 billion for Soyuz seats in 2017 and 2018.’[9] Investing in American commercial space programs denies Russia of critical funding for its own programs while bolstering the US space industry. For example, Space X recently received notoriety as a market leader with its reusable rockets and is poised to surpass Russia’s lead in the commercial launch market.[10] Increasing funding to companies like Space X will support the 2018 National Defense Strategy: as new commercial technology changes the character of war, the US must maintain a technological advantage that requires ‘changes to industry culture, investment sources, and protection across the National Security Innovation Base.’[11] Though the US still refuses to work with China in space, China has successfully garnered support elsewhere. After NASA reneged from a number of high-profile joint missions with the European Space Agency (ESA), ESA has increasingly collaborated with China. The director of China’s National Space Science Centre, Wang Chi, explained that because China is a newcomer in space science, ‘International collaborations are the shortcut for China to catch up with the world.’ Such collaboration poses a ‘seismic shift in space power,’ according to Astronomy journalist Stuart Clark. ‘Europe could pivot either way or balance in the middle.’[12] The US and Japan have already enhanced bilateral space security cooperation through participation in the Schriever Wargame and the Global Sentinel Exercise.[13] US cooperation with ESA should follow a similar path in order to balance against Russian and Chinese space ambitions. After all, ‘by working together with allies and partners we amass the greatest possible strength for the long-term advancement of our interests, maintaining favorable balances of power that deter aggression…’[14]

Third, the US military must incentivize space-focused education for its future leaders. The DoD emphasizes the need for ‘intellectual leadership and military professionalism in the art and science of warfighting, deepening our knowledge of history while embracing new technology and techniques to counter competitors.’[15] Since the US Air Force has essentially become an ‘Air and Space Force;’ it must embrace ‘space-mindedness’ when educating future leaders. To foster space-minded leadership, the Air Force must dedicate specific Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) billets for space-focused degree programs at Universities specializing in the fields of science and technology. For instance, the University of Colorado in Boulder is the number one public university recipient of NASA research awards[16] and it also boasts the seventh largest US Air Force ROTC detachment.[17] By placing future leaders in learning environments like this, the US will further its competitive intellectual edge in space. The Air Force must also increase opportunities for enlisted space personnel to pursue space-focused degrees so that they may fuse practical and theoretical knowledge to advance technology and techniques in their respective missions. Finally, the Air Force should provide internship opportunities to active duty and ROTC personnel with space agencies such as NASA, ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), as well as with commercial space companies. This combination of educational opportunities will foster the space-mindedness that is needed to counter competitors in the space domain.

In a new era of great power competition, the command of space is necessary in order to maintain a strategic advantage over resurgent and revisionist powers in case of a future conflict. A Spacepower Doctrine that actually recognizes space as a warfighting domain, backed by lethal offensive capabilities, will secure an uncontested supremacy of space operations. Furthermore, the US can continue advancing its National Security Innovation Base by increasing funding to the American space industry and ending funding to Russia’s space program altogether. This, combined with deepened cooperation with partners like ESA and JAXA, will help achieve a balance of power in space against Russian and Chinese space ambitions. Finally, incentivizing space-focused education within the military will foster a space-minded generation of leaders that will ensure an intellectual competitive edge for generations to come. In conclusion, this mix of strategies, policies and systems will serve to strengthen US deterrence in space to dissuade adversaries from extending conflict to this domain.



[1] Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, trans. Dino Ferrari (1942; new imprint, Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1983), 31.

[2] James Mattis, ‘Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge (Washington, D.C.: Secretary of Defense, 2018)

[3] Mike Eckel, ‘Pentagon Chief Calls Russia, China “Revisionist Powers,”’ Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 19 January 2018, https://www.rferl.org/a/pentagon-mattis-calls-russia-china-revisionist-powers/28985632.html.

[4] John J. Mearsheimer ‘Anarchy and the Struggle for Power,’ in International Politics: Enduring Concepts and Contemporary Issues, 7th ed., eds. Robert J. Art and Robert Jervis (New York: Pearson Education Inc, 2005) 50.

[5] John J. Mearsheimer ‘Structural Realism,’ in International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, 3rd ed., eds. Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 73.

[6] Thomas Write, ‘China and Russia vs. America: Great-power revisionism is back,’ Brookings, 27 April 2015, https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/china-and-russia-vs-america-great-power-revisionism-is-back/.

[7] Institute for National Strategic Studies, Toward a Theory of Spacepower: Selected Essays (Defense Department, National Defense University: Washington, D.C., 2011) 30-32.

[8] Patrick Tucker, ‘Pentagon Intelligence Chief: Russia And China Will Have Weapons in Space “In the Near Future,”’ Defense One, 27 June 2018, https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2018/06/pentagon-intelligence-chief-russia-and-china-will-have-weapons-space-near-future/149335/.

[9] Dave Mosher, ‘Russia is squeezing NASA for more than $3.3 billion — and there's little anyone can do about it,’ Business Insider, 2 September 2016, https://www.businessinsider.com/astronaut-cost-per-soyuz-seat-2016-9.

[10] Leonid Bershidsky, How Elon Musk beat Russia’s Space Program, Chicago Tribune, 7 February 2018, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-spacex-elon-musk-russia-20180207-story.html.

[11] Mattis, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, 3.

[12] Stuart Clark, ‘China: the new space superpower,’ Guardian, 28 August 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/aug/28/china-new-space-superpower-lunar-mars-missions.

[13] Office of the Spokesperson, US Department of State, ‘Joint Statement on the Fifth Meeting of the U.S.-Japan Comprehensive Dialogue on Space,’ 23 July 2018, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/07/284429.htm.

[14] Mattis, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, 8.

[15] Mattis, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, 8.

[16] University of Colorado Boulder. ‘Research.’ https://www.colorado.edu/research/focus/aerospace.

[17] University of Colorado Boulder. ‘Air Force ROTC.’ https://www.colorado.edu/afrotc/.

 


Works Cited:

Leonid Bershidsky, How Elon Musk beat Russia’s Space Program, Chicago Tribune, 7 February 2018, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-spacex-elon-musk-      russia-20180207-story.html.

Stuart Clark, ‘China: the new space superpower,’ Guardian, 28 August 2016,   https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/aug/28/china-new-space-superpower-lunar-        mars-missions.

Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, trans. Dino Ferrari (1942; new imprint, Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1983)

Mike Eckel, ‘Pentagon Chief Calls Russia, China “Revisionist Powers,”’ Radio Free      Europe/Radio Liberty, 19 January 2018, https://www.rferl.org/a/pentagon-mattis-calls-          russia-china-revisionist-powers/28985632.html.

Institute for National Strategic Studies, Toward a Theory of Spacepower: Selected Essays           (Defense Department, National Defense University: Washington, D.C., 2011)

James Mattis, ‘Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of          America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge (Washington, D.C.:           Secretary of Defense, 2018)

John J. Mearsheimer ‘Anarchy and the Struggle for Power,’ in International Politics: Enduring          Concepts and Contemporary Issues, 7th ed., eds. Robert J. Art and Robert Jervis (New    York: Pearson Education Inc, 2005)

John J. Mearsheimer ‘Structural Realism,’ in International Relations Theories: Discipline and         Diversity, 3rd ed., eds. Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith (Oxford: Oxford       University Press, 2013)

Dave Mosher, ‘Russia is squeezing NASA for more than $3.3 billion — and there's little anyone          can do about it,’ Business Insider, 2 September 2016,         https://www.businessinsider.com/astronaut-cost-per-soyuz-seat-2016-9.

Office of the Spokesperson, US Department of State, ‘Joint Statement on the Fifth Meeting of    the U.S.-Japan Comprehensive Dialogue on Space,’ 23 July 2018,             https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/07/284429.htm.

Patrick Tucker, ‘Pentagon Intelligence Chief: Russia And China Will Have Weapons in Space         “In the Near Future,”’ Defense One, 27 June 2018,             https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2018/06/pentagon-intelligence-chief-russia-and- china-will-have-weapons-space-near-future/149335/.

Thomas Write, ‘China and Russia vs. America: Great-power revisionism is back,’ Brookings, 27           April 2015, https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/china-and-russia-vs-america-great-            power-revisionism-is-back/.

University of Colorado Boulder. ‘Air Force ROTC.’ https://www.colorado.edu/afrotc/.

University of Colorado Boulder. ‘Research.’ https://www.colorado.edu/research/focus/aerospace.