READERS' FORVM: Opportunities and Perils in the Command of Space.

Author:Alford Jr., Lionel D.

When the United States Air Force gamed its independence on September 18, 1947, the event was as much about how to use the atmosphere to wage war as it was about the new technologies that made war in the air possible. [1] After all, the Air Force never held a monopoly on the use of the atmosphere to wage war and today, the Army, Navy and Marines still maintain powerful air arms. What made the Air Force unique was its use of the atmosphere and aviation technology to wage strategic warfare. Today, the United States faces a similar question about space. Space provides an arena analogous to the one that confronted policymakers in 1947. Technologies that make possible war in and from space shape perceptions about how to use space to wage war, and as importantly, how to organize forces to wage war from space. The question before policymakers today is: Should the United States create an independent space force, or should the Air Force fully embrace the mission and responsibility of space warfare? Senator Bob Smith wr ote: "Ultimately--if the Air Force cannot or will not embrace space power and if the Special Operations Command model does not translate--we in Congress will have to establish an entirely new service." [2] Right now, without changes to the current way we do business, we will see the establishment of a Space Force--separate from the Air Force. [3]

The historical parallels between air and space are uncanny. In the First World War, aircraft were rushed into service as eyes for the ground commander. [4] Those aircraft included the mighty Zeppelin, observation balloons, and a small but growing force of heavier-than-air craft--the airplane. Reconnaissance was the mainstay and the sole purpose for aircraft at the beginning of World War I. Only when airplanes could carry weapons did they gain a direct offensive role. Before this, they were more mobile but simply less effective observers and artillery directors than their lighter-than-air brothers. [5] Yet, after aircraft gained the ability to attack, their inherent maneuverability allowed them to target and destroy observation balloons and Zeppelins. Airplanes took command of the skies and appropriated the reconnaissance mission. Later, when technology introduced radio communications to cockpits, airplanes also took away the artillery direction mission from the lighter-than-air craft. Before the end of the wa r, airplanes dominated the airspace over the battlefield, and by the Second World War, airplanes had become a significant element of military power.

Today, space systems are undergoing an operational development in many ways parallel to the growth of early aviation. The initial role of space platforms is reconnaissance and communications. This observation and signal role is encapsulated in the description of space as the modern high ground. Space systems enable the ground, air, and naval commander to see and communicate with allies and observe enemy forces, but current space assets are similar to balloons and Zeppelins. They are simply platforms, almost immovable and certainly not capable of offensive "fire and maneuver." U.S. Space Command, just like the early Army Signal Corps has taken the role of the Air Service, while the spacecraft analogue to the aircraft has not yet made its appearance. When it does, the ability to attack and maneuver will change the high ground of space, and...

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