The Move Into Space

April 1, 1999

The Air Force must get serious about fully integrating the use of space into its operations and its culture, or it will risk losing the space mission to some other organization.

That warning was issued by a panel of former senior Air Force officers and civilian experts at a Jan. 12 forum held by the Eaker Institute, the public policy and research arm of the Air Force Association’s Aerospace Education Foundation.

“The Air Force must get on with aerospace integration, and we must get it right,” said retired Gen. Thomas S. Moorman Jr., a former Air Force vice chief of staff and former commander of Air Force Space Command.

Retired USAF Gen. Howell M. Estes III, former commander in chief of US Space Command, issued a blunt warning. “If we don’t change the culture of the Air Force to an aerospace culture, you can kiss space goodbye,” Estes said. “It is not going to stay in the Air Force.”

Much the same message was delivered by Rebecca Grant, who has been an advisor to top Air Force leaders and is now president of IRIS, a defense consulting firm. Said Grant: “Either the Air Force will continue to integrate its capabilities, improving its aerospace power, or the march to space will continue on without it.”

The panel of experts also included John M. “Mike” Borky, a retired Air Force officer who now is a senior technical fellow with TRW, Inc. He recently led an Air Force Scientific Advisory Board study that produced a new space roadmap for the service. Borky and the other members of the panel took special note of the rapid growth of commercial space assets and warned that the Air Force must make greater use of those capabilities and not try to duplicate them with its limited budget.

Striking From Space

Grant asked the panelists if the Air Force also must think about acquiring the ability to apply force from space, “either on other things in space or on things on the surface of the Earth.”

Borky said he approaches the question of applying force from space exactly as he would consider putting a new munition on an aircraft. “The question ought to be: What is the most operationally and economically effective means of prosecuting a target? Space has some tremendous advantages, speed and assured access being high on that list.”

Moorman said, “People have been thinking about striking things from space for some time.” At some point in the future, a situation will emerge in which the United States needs that capability and “it will be criminal if we have not worked the technology problem,” he said.

The panel members agreed that the Air Force must prepare now to defend all of the critical US space assets, both commercial and military, against the inevitable attempt to attack this vital national resource.

The overriding message was that space is of rapidly escalating importance to US military and commercial strength and the Air Force must adapt or risk becoming irrelevant.

Moorman and Estes pointed out that the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s “Joint Vision 2010,” the Army’s “Army After Next,” the Navy-Marine Corps’ “… From the Sea,” and the Air Force’s “Global Engagement” all depend heavily on space assets.

“That key enabler is information,” Estes said. “Virtually all the information that is going to flow to warfighters–air, land, and sea and space forces–is going to flow through space. Space has been critical to the military in the past. It is growing in importance.”

“The 20th century was an airpower century,” noted Grant. “The 21st century belongs to aerospace power. But now, the key issue is: How will the Air Force step forward and take that leadership?”

To demonstrate the possible competition for the space mission, Grant cited a Navy publication’s declaration that space is an “ocean” and that “an ocean is where navies go.”

Although not mentioned at the forum, the institutional danger for USAF could be seen in a proposal by Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.), a Senate Armed Services Committee member, to create a separate service, if necessary, to incorporate all the space assets and functions now spread over three military services and various civilian agencies. Smith’s goal, in part, would be to give the space mission stronger institutional clout.

Beyond the risk of losing the space mission to another organization, the Air Force must make better use of space if it is to meet future requirements, panel members agreed.

The way the Air Force handles the challenge of integrating air and space will shape its future and “impact everything in the 21st century,” said Moorman. This, he said, would include doctrine, operational concepts, weapon systems, education and training, and personnel policies, as well as issues of “how we fight, … how we think about ourselves, and how we think about our craft.”

Major “Cultural” Shift

“Accordingly,” Moorman continued, “the integration of air and space, I believe, will require major cultural change. … It will also require a new operational paradigm.”

Borky pointed out that the world security environment is changing rapidly and that contingencies may arise anywhere in the world. What is more, there is “a growing level of ambiguity about the threat,” the veteran systems engineer said.

That makes it hard for commanders to know if they have picked the right course of action, and it puts “a premium on flexibility,” he said. The Air Force will be expected to react more quickly and to “deliver exquisitely precise application of force,” Borky continued.

“There is effectively no way to do that, which I can see, that doesn’t involve an integrated air and space force,” he concluded.

The Air Force is becoming a US-garrisoned force with global commitments, Borky said, and for that reason, “the magic word today is expeditionary.” However, there is no effective way to deploy, set up, employ, and sustain an expeditionary force that does not require “far more effective use of space than we are able to make today,” he said.

Moorman emphasized the same point, declaring, “The expeditionary forces are enabled by space, but we’ve got to make that linkage a lot tighter to get the kind of leanness that we need.”

All of the panelists noted that the Air Force has started the required process of evolution, first described by Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, the former Chief of Staff, in 1996 as a slow transition from today’s air force to an air and space force on the way to becoming a space and air force.

The Air Force already “provides integrated aerospace power to the joint warfighter,” Grant said.

The US military started using space heavily late in the Vietnam War. The defense establishment began to get organized in a major way in the 1980s by creating the three service space commands and a multiservice unified space command. It used space capabilities in a more visible way in Grenada, Libya, and Panama, Moorman observed.

However, said Moorman, it was in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm that “space really became appreciated for … what it brings to the fight.”

Already, Estes noted, the Air Force has transferred all or part of five missions to space and will shift more missions there for the same reason. “You can do the missions better from space,” Estes explained.

Moorman and Borky agreed. “An integrated aerospace force is the most operationally effective way to employ forces for the joint and the coalition fight,” Moorman said. “Aerospace forces will allow us to find, fix, track, target, engage, and assess any target, any opponent, globally, 24 hours a day, all-weather. … We are not totally there yet, but we are pretty close.”

Because the US military of the near future can expect to operate with “severely constrained resources,” Borky said, “every military task has got to be approached from the standpoint of: What is the most affordable way to accomplish it?” In most situations, he argued, that will involve using a “system of systems,” which will be tied together by space assets.

Commercial Explosion

Moorman, expanding the discussion somewhat, noted that the importance of the commercial space world is “exploding” and will continue to grow for a long time. “What that means is, we are going to have a different world in the 21st century,” he said.

Spending on commercial space is growing 20 percent a year, compared to a growth rate in the government space field of just 2 percent, Moorman said. At that rate, there soon will be “trillions of dollars in assets” in space.

Borky expanded on that theme.

“As commercial space becomes overwhelming, … there will be options to provide space capabilities from commercial, or at least nondevelopmental, sources, far more affordably than what we have been accustomed to thinking about in the past,” he said.

The Air Force must “find much more effective ways to use commercial space, both products and services, to satisfy military needs,” Borky said.

That will require an active and continuing dialogue with industry, he said. To determine the best way to fill a military space requirement, the military “has to know what commercial space can bring to the party,” he said.

At present, “a host of obstacles” in law, in regulations, and in culture stand in the way of the effective use of commercial products and service, Borky said. However, he added, “I can see no affordable solution that does not involve overcoming those barriers.”

Estes picked up on that issue, declaring that anyone who does not believe that space is emerging as “an economic center of gravity for our country … [is] not paying attention” to what is going on. “It is a fact-lots and lots of money [is] going to space worldwide and lots of investment in this country,” the recently retired space commander said.

There is no way the Air Force can match what the commercial space sector is doing and no reason it should try, Estes said.

One problem with the rapid improvement in commercial space facilities, Moorman said, is “the availability of data to adversaries. … They can get remote sensing data, navigation data, and communications data” at a relatively affordable price.

“Hell to Pay”

Another concern is that as commercial space becomes an imperative for US national security and its way of life, “there will be hell to pay” if it were interrupted, Moorman said.

“The United States Air Force, as the space service, will be required, I believe, to protect those resources,” he said.

The Air Force has worried about national security satellites for years but now must think about protecting the investment in commercial space, Moorman said.

Estes also pointed out that as space becomes more important to the US and the global economy, as well as to the military, it will be “a source of national power for nations.”

And if it is a source of national power, “somebody is going to come along and challenge it,” he said.

“We’ve got to pay attention to protecting this huge investment that this nation and other nations are making in space,” Estes added. “If we don’t do that … we are going to find ourselves in a position where we find them at risk and are unable to respond to it.”

Borky agreed that as space becomes a vital national economic interest, it will “sooner or later tempt our adversaries to find and exploit weaknesses.”

That means the Air Force inevitably will be “called upon to protect not just the property but the freedom of action of our nation’s citizens.”

“Space is going to be thrust upon us as a security challenge in its own right, and we had better be getting ready to meet it,” Borky said.

Moorman pointed out that Space Command always has considered protecting US national security space assets part of its mission.

“But, as all the speakers have pointed out, the commercial world demands we understand ultimately how to protect that asset,” he said. “By the way, right now, they are not real interested in being protected.”

The Panelists

Dr. John M. “Mike” Borky: A technical fellow with TRW and chief engineer, Technical and Training Services Strategic Business Unit for TRW. He has served on many government and industry study groups concerning military and space operations. He has extensive experience managing programs in spacecraft electronics and avionics.

Gen. Howell M. Estes III, USAF (Ret.): Former commander in chief of US Space Command. He also served as director for operations on the joint staff and during the Gulf War was the deputy chief of staff for operations at Strategic Air Command.

Gen. Thomas S. Moorman Jr., USAF (Ret.): Served as Air Force vice chief of staff prior to retirement from the Air Force in 1997. He also served in a variety of intelligence and reconnaissance related positions and as commander of Air Force Space Command.

Dr. Rebecca Grant (moderator): President of Independent Research and Information Services, Corp. (IRIS). She is a former Rand analyst who also served as a member of the personal operations staff for former Secretary of the Air Force Donald B. Rice and former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill A. McPeak.

Otto Kreisher is the national security reporter for Copley News Service, based in Washington, D.C. His most recent article for Air Force Magazine, “Desert One,” appeared in the January 1999 issue.