WHITTINGTON: Protecting America’s Future Means Militarizing Space Today

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Mark Whittington Contributor
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The Roman general Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus said, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

The statement was true when Roman legions guarded the Pax Romana. It is true today as America’s armed forces maintain a fragile peace throughout the world. It will be true in the future when humanity expands beyond Earth. That means we need a Space Force to keep peace on the high frontier.

Two bills establishing a space-faring American military service branch are moving through the House and the Senate. The House bill calls the new branch the “Space Corps.” It envisions the Space Corps as subservient to the Air Force as the Marine Corps is to the Navy. The Senate version envisions a Space Force more in line with the vision that President Trump has advanced. Congress will reconcile the two bills in a conference committee.

The space service branch budget will be tiny, compared to those of the other service branches. But in the years to come it is likely to grow as the new service branch’s responsibilities expand.

The new Space Force will have to organize itself. It will have to figure out how to fulfill its mandate to defend America’s space assets from enemy attack. The United States depends on communications, reconnaissance, and navigation satellites to wage wars and to run its economy. If an enemy were to destroy these satellites, the attack would cripple the United States. America might suffer defeat in time of war.

The Space Force will have to learn how to strike at an enemy’s satellite constellations and not fill space with orbiting space debris. Tests of anti-satellite weapons conducted by China and India have shown that their use will run the risk of rendering near-Earth space inaccessible because of the debris that such attacks generate.

America and her allies will venture into space, creating new industries, mining the moon and the asteroids, and even setting up a Mars colony. The Space Force’s job will grow greater and more complex. The new military branch will have to operate in some of the most hostile environments imaginable.

The Space Force’s mission will include research and development into technologies needed to wage war in space. The Air Force is already engaged in such R&D with the top-secret X-37B space plane, currently in orbit. The Defense Innovation Unit has proposed a free-flying space station that will start small but grow to include astronauts. The concept harkens back to the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, a project the military pursued in the 1960s. The MOL would have involved military astronauts performing real-time reconnaissance of the Soviet Union and performing classified experiments. President Nixon cancelled the MOL in 1969. Most of the military astronauts transitioned to NASA.

Any argument against militarizing space is specious. Humans have militarized space since people started to launch objects into orbit. The question is, should we weaponize space? The land, sea., and air have already been venues of armed conflict. No reason exists that space will not become another arena for war. The only constraint on weaponizing space is the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty that prohibit stationing weapons of mass destruction in space.

A space-faring military branch could be assigned to deal with an asteroid or comet collision with Earth. Popular culture has highlighted the idea of a killer rock from space wiping out humanity. One such asteroid killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The Space Force could be tasked with guarding against such an event.

As General Vegetius once suggested, if we want to maintain peace in the heavens, we have to prepare for war in the heavens. We need a well-armed, capable Space Force to prevent war in space and to keep the peace. Then space can remain a realm of science, commerce, and exploration.

Mark Whittington (@MarkWhittington) is the author of Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? and The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He also operates his own blog, Curmudgeons Corner.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.