There was a short but solemn White House Rose Garden ceremony on a warm, late August day in 2019. In attendance was President Donald Trump; his head of the National Space Council, Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of Defense Mark Esper; and U.S. Air Force General John Raymond. The proceedings were a "big deal," said the president during his remarks, and a bold, "landmark moment" for America's armed forces. And with that, the official party stood at attention as Chief Master Sergeant Roger Towberman reverently unfurled a gold crested white flag. General Raymond took charge of America's 1 1 th combatant command, and after some polite applause from a few onlookers, U.S. Space Command was reborn.
First established in 1982, during the days when President Ronald Reagan dreamt the Strategic Defense Initiative's lasers would blast Soviet ICBMS from the firmament, Space Command led global space operations in the post-Vietnam era. But in 2002, the Pentagon decommissioned it following a post-9/11 consolidation of responsibilities. The then-unfurling flag, not long after Apollo 11's fiftieth anniversary, revealed Space Command's recycled emblem. The future of the Space Force at that moment looked uncertain. America, it seemed, had just taken a giant leap backward.
Looking back as recently as 2018, the times certainly have changed. In March of that year, at San Diego's Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, President Trump dramatically ordered the Department of Defense (DOD) to establish an independent U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of America's military. Invoking the new National Defense Strategy for Space, he declared, "Space is a warfighting domain, just like the air, land, and sea." Reflecting on her confirmation hearing in 2017, former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said that one could not even utter "space" and "warfighting" in the same sentence. A fascinating debate played out in the press not long after the president's announcement. Sadly, it exposed Washington's boundless parochialism. But it also underscored that our satellites are indeed vulnerable, and that America should do more to defend itself from an attack.
The White House's push on this front was warranted, more than most Americans might have realized at the time, given advances in China and Russia's counterspace programs--from hunter-killer spacecraft, to missiles that obliterate satellites in low Earth orbit and high-powered lasers that blind their optics. Old-style "big bus" space systems (so-called because they are the size of city buses) developed by tried-and-true aerospace firms like Lockheed Martin or Boeing are now, as U.S. Strategic Command's General John Hyten put it, "big, fat, juicy targets." The Air Force Association (AFA) believes air and space power are inextricably linked--a notion that incongruously...