U.S. Space Force

(WaPo) Pence details plan for creation of Space Force in what would be the sixth branch of the military.

I take the pov of Mattis. Quoting,

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last year that he opposed a new department of the military “at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting functions.”

Separate service arms were historically the result of the different primary elements of land and sea, and rudimentary communication between the two. Before radio, synergistic application of force was rare. With radio, interservice rivalry became the artificial barrier. Since World War II, generals in charge of theaters have fought not just  the enemy, but also the parochial barriers that come from having separate service arms.

There are still differences. Apart from basic training, which is influenced by the primary element,

  • Since a naval vessel consists of complex machinery enclosed by a hull, a naval officer is almost always an engineer.
  • For  pilots, gymnastic skills are prized, indicating superior ability to orient in three dimensional space.
  • West Pointers swear by American football as uncannily similar to combat. Melding traditional warfighting skills, extreme fitness, and  high technology, ground force soldiers are furthest along the path of technical integration resulting in the cyborg.

The strategies and tactics required by each environment are different, but they share  the common requirements of training in human resources and command. Since the differing environments are natural barriers to force integration, a large part of the path to becoming a general officer is cross training.

We could look at the degrees of freedom of motion  (DOF) for each service. Neglecting intermodal transport, such as helicopter, naval aircraft, and the  depth of a submarine:

  • Navy. A naval vessel is described by a position and a velocity (bearing). It has 4 degrees of freedom. Latitude and longitude convert to X and Y, giving  (X, Y,  Vx, Vy). A naval vessel accelerates only for a short interval before reaching a constant value close to the top speed of the vessel.
  • Ground forces have a sequence of positions, roughly equivalent to two degrees of freedom. Velocity and bearing are not as meaningful as the estimated time of arrival at a way-point, which hopefully aligns with a   phase line on a battlefield map.
  • Air Force. For purpose of intercept or targeting, an airplane or missile has 9 degrees of freedom, 3 each of position, velocity, and acceleration. With the addition of “jerk” to the target equations, 12 may be counted.

A space force vehicle has the same degrees of freedom of movement as an Air Force airplane. The differences:

  • It’s harder to get into space.  The amount of energy required is hundreds of times greater.
  • It’s harder to maneuver once you get there. The ability to maneuver is described by the maximum delta-V. An airplane can make almost unlimited turns, because it uses the air. In space, rockets must be used, and they have limited power and fuel.
  • It’s harder to get back to earth. All the energy used to get into space is turned into heat.  An ordinary airplane would melt.

The boundary between air and space is the Kármán Line, 62 miles up. Below the line, things can fly. Above the line, they have to be thrown. Throwing, which involves rockets, is much more expensive than flying.

Do these differences make it sensible to create a Space Force? No, because:

  • The degrees of freedom of motion are the same as the Air Force.
  • A spacecraft can gain maneuverability by diving below the Kármán Line, gaining delta-V, and swooping back up. So the dividing line between an airplane and space plane is fuzzy.
  • Satellite survivability, redundancy, and replacement  are not addressed in any meaningful way.
  • New bureaucracy is almost always bad. It’s surprising the idea would come from an administration hep on cutting regulations. It is impossible to divide the mission in a logical way.

There has been a huge investment in Block III Arleigh Burke destroyers especially oriented towards missile defense.  The Air Force X-37 space plane is an operational success. Narrowing the responsibilities of the existing services ignores the intermodal nature of this problem.

The problem of survivable weapon systems, particularly of space assets, is real. While the idea of a Space Force may  attract funding, it is not a functional concept.

Let’s not solve real problems with a bureaucracy bloated before it’s even born.




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