Space Force not an empty promise

By Anthony A. Shaffer

Acting President, London Center for Policy Research

Published in delgazette.com

When President Trump promised to create a Space Force to defend American assets in the final frontier, he wasn’t just talking science fiction. This is the destiny we must pursue for the American people and their continued security. Speaking from the military perspective, space is the ultimate high ground.

Even as lawmakers in Washington continue to debate the initiative, the Pentagon is already planning to develop and test new capabilities designed to give the U.S. a necessary strategic advantage in space.

“Defense officials want to test a neutral particle-beam in orbit in fiscal 2023 as part of a ramped-up effort to explore various types of space-based weaponry,” Defense One explained in a recent report, highlighting an effort that targets new generations of Russian and Chinese missiles.

No matter how peaceful the world may seem today, militarization of space is inevitable — it has long since been started by other powers, and we have not maintained anything like parity. In fact, it has been going on for decades — long-range nuclear missiles travel through space before they hit their targets, and existing defense systems seek to intercept nuclear warheads before they re-enter the atmosphere. The Reagan era “Star Wars” initiative was both visionary and prescient, as it outlined the future that has now arrived.

But building a Space Force is not really about funding a futuristic arms race with Moscow and Beijing, both of which are already working feverishly to catch up to U.S. capabilities in space. It’s about making sure that America retains its current technological edge, which is vital for both national defense and economic security, and, yes, for man’s continued peaceful exploration of our solar system and its resources.

Virtually the entire U.S. economy depends in some way on the hundreds of satellites that orbit our planet — assets that currently have no sophisticated protection against a potential attack from one of our adversaries. Every aspect of modern life is touched by technology that is space-based. From the GPS phones we now rely on for personal navigation and commercial tracking of goods for “just in time” delivery, to rapid communications that enable near real-time contact and the potential jump-off point for exploration of solar energy and raw materials from asteroids and other planetary bodies within the solar system – this is a realm we must master and secure.

“My goal and the department’s goal is to grow what we call our ‘margin of dominance’ in space … This margin is now contested,” said Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan during a recent event. “What is vital is that we protect a $19 trillion economy and the systems our military runs on.”

Since President Trump publicly announced the Space Force initiative last summer, however, some Democrats have argued that developing extraterrestrial military capabilities would create an expensive bureaucratic headache for the Pentagon. I suspect that today’s Democrats would have opposed the invention of the wheel if given the chance.

“I think creating a separate service with all of the infrastructure and the bureaucracy is not the way to go,” Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed declared last year. More recently, some House Democrats have pledged to eliminate large portions of the President’s proposal due to cost concerns — a move that would undermine the entire initiative.

Of course, this sort of penny-pinching rhetoric is laughable coming from the Democrats — in recent months, almost every prominent liberal politician has embraced the Green New Deal, a $93 trillion bureaucratic monstrosity that dwarfs America’s entire economy. Speaking as someone who has an environmental studies degree, this is a plan that would have no noticeable positive impact on the environment, and would simply place whole sectors of the economy and society under the direct control of government.

Even so, the president has already taken steps to address the concerns about unnecessary bureaucracy, for instance by instructing the Air Force to oversee Space Force operations — a temporary incubation step toward an independent force separate from the other services.

Also, as with other major policy initiatives, such as prison reform and Veterans Affairs accountability, the Space Force can be a bipartisan success.

The need to protect our economy from space-based threats is not science fiction — it’s reality. Space is our next frontier, and we must lead the effort to explore it so that there is no interference from global challengers or enemies. The Pentagon is ready and willing to defend the final frontier, but first Congress must authorize the Space Force proposed by President Trump.

As President John F. Kennedy said on 12 September 1962, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Yes – continuing this bipartisan dream of securing space and returning to exploration is hard. But we, the American people, excel at doing the hard things no one else can — and that is what President Trump is working to do.