US Space Force: what is the point?
It is no secret to anyone that our space exploration technology isn’t anywhere near “Star Trek” level. It is not even near “The Expanse” level. We still have a lot of trouble getting out of our atmosphere, it takes months or years to go from a planet to the other, and we don’t even have a space station with ship-building capabilities.
But just the same, in 2019 Trump turned the Air Force’s Space Command into its own branch of the military, the United States Space Force. We humans certainly don’t have the technology to go around shooting lasers at space pirates, so what does it do? Do its officers just sit and wait for the technology to come? Is it even more “chair force” than the Air Force?
Well, let’s take a look.
Military intelligence and Counter-Intelligence
Do they sit around waiting for aliens to come by? No. At least not only that. While military spacecraft aren’t a reality yet, satellites are very real and can brings many problems.
Namely, it is important to keep track of satellites that are nearing their end of life or have stopped working, to find out if they may fall into American territory. Also, using satellites for espionage is also very possible, and considering the US’s recent conflicts with China, this is something to keep an eye on.
The Space Force also has to be ready in case someone launches an ICBM (that is, an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, notably the nuclear variety). These kinds of missiles are sent beyond the atmosphere, where they travel until they get near the desired target and then fall straight down. Monitoring its path may aid in evacuating locations and maybe even destroying it mid-flight. Of course, in this case they are keeping an eye on North Korea.
Even though there are no military space crafts yet, that doesn’t mean they won’t exist. For 2021, two thirds of the Space Force budget (10 billion dollars) will be directed to research. Current research policy consists mostly of partnerships with private companies which invest in the aerospace and military fields, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and of course Lockheed Martin. NASA is also part of it, but they have more of a symbiotic relationship, similar to NASA’s relationship with those same companies, especially by providing space training, as NASA is mainly a scientific agency.
These partnerships with private companies seem to be mostly based on prospecting and buying suitable crafts and equipment from those companies which could further the Force’s objectives, in a similar way to the branches’ practice of having private contractors to supply them with equipment, vehicles and aircraft. It may seem weird for those of us which grew up hearing so much about NASA and its pioneering technologies to hear about private space exploration, but that seems to be the trend for the near future and the Military is going to take advantage of it if they can.
We’re probably not going to hear very much from them in the near future. How the Space Force is going to shape itself will depend heavily on the advances from both NASA and private companies, and until then, their work will be mostly intelligence- and defense-based. Not really exciting stuff.
However, the results from such partnerships seem to be already taking shape in some way. Not long ago there were news that SpaceX had teamed with the US Military to develop a rocket capable of delivering weapons in less than an hour to any place in the world. Seems very sci-fi-esque, but considering SpaceX’s advances in the field, that is not unlikely.
For the short term, US Space Force’s action will mostly focus on our own planet, but there will come a time when they will be able to aim for the stars.