Earlier this month, President Donald Trump directed the United States military and Department of Defense (DoD) to begin the process of establishing a sixth branch of the military – the Space Force.
The establishment of a new branch of the military isn’t unheard of, but it also hasn’t happened in a long time. The military started with one branch – the United States Army – in 1775 and then expanded to three with the introduction of the Navy and Marines later that same year. Another branch wouldn’t be added until 1915, when the Coast Guard was established. The number of branches reached its current number of five when the Air Force was established as its own branch in 1947, following World War II and the implementation of the National Security Act of 1947.
The military has stayed as those five branches for 71 years – at least until now, with this directive to begin ramping up a Space Force.
Launching and establishing a separate Space Force has been met with a somewhat mixed reaction – most likely because it does sound like something right out of science fiction. However, the concept of creating a Space Force is indicative of a new reality in space that’s become increasingly worrisome for our military – space is no longer a benign domain.
The idea that our adversaries have witnessed the strategic advantage that space and satellite capabilities give our military and are working to deny this advantage is one that’s discussed every time military leaders responsible for the space domain are together. Here are just a few quotes from senior military space officials and influencers that have been reported in the Government Satellite Report in the past year:
“Adversaries have had a front-row seat, watching our success and figuring out the operational, strategical, and tactical advantages that we gain from [SATCOM].” – Lt. Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, Commander of Air Force Space Command
“Cyber attack against a variety of communications networks is a difficult challenge. But the far simpler thing that Russia can do. That North Korea can do. That Iran can do. That Botswana can do. That some guy in the middle of a field with a TV truck can do…is jamming. Jamming is very hard to protect against, unless you have the right equipment.” – Douglas Loverro, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy
Making a Space Force
There is clearly consensus and understanding that space is now a warfighting domain, and the directive to ramp up a Space Force is at least evidence of that fact. But starting a new branch of the military is not something that’s going to happen overnight.
In fact, the impetus to start a new branch of the military requires more than just a directive from the President – it also requires action from Congress. As Jonathan Turley, a professor at Georgetown University’s law school, recently told Defense News, “…Congress alone has the power to establish a new branch of the military and to establish the positions of senior executive officials to lead such a department.”
Between the requirement to get Congressional approval for the Space Force, and the logistics required to make it a reality, the Space Force could take years to get off of the ground. But the threat to America’s satellites and space resources is real today. With a clear threat to overcome and an unknown amount of time needed to get the Space Force established, it’s clear that faster and more expedient steps to protect our space capabilities should be considered – and that’s where commercial satellites could help.
Today’s advanced high-throughput and MEO satellite constellations feature advanced technologies that are inherently more secure and harder to jam. But the use of commercial satellites in conjunction with existing military satellite constellations offers mission assurance and resiliency in other ways, as well.
By spreading military signals across a combination of military satellites and commercial satellites, it becomes increasingly difficult for adversaries to identify which satellites to compromise. It also becomes nearly impossible to deny satellite capabilities by compromising one, or multiple satellites, since others would be available to carry that load.
Ultimately, commercial satellites can play a hand in enabling multiple resiliency factors that can – when combined – make our satellite infrastructure significantly more secure without immense investment.
As Doug Loverro recently said during a Defense One-organized, “Cocktails and Conversations,” event, “It’s going to be a combination of proliferation, disaggregation, diversity, distribution, protection, proliferation and deception. Those factors can combine for any space capability that we know about to make them resilient, and – quite frankly – it doesn’t cost a lot of money if you combine them correctly.”
Regardless of whether the Space Force is the appropriate step at the appropriate time to help protect our space assets and satellites, the fact that it’s being considered is evidence that resiliency and readiness in space is a paramount concern and that space is no longer benign. But there are steps that we can take to protect these space assets now, while we explore other solutions – and embracing commercial satellites is a cost effective and efficient step in the right direction.
To learn more about the ways that commercial satellite services are being used within the military, click on the following resources: