Guest Author: M.V. “Coyote” Smith, Colonel, USAF-Ret (PhD)
If the Air Force cannot or will not embrace space power, we in Congress will have to drag them there, kicking and screaming if necessary, or perhaps establish an entirely new service.
— Bob Smith, Congressman, 1998
To say that there has been discontent with Air Force stewardship of space is a major understatement. [There is] rage at “Air Force shenanigans” in shorting the space budget.
— Jim Armor, Maj Gen, USAF-Ret, 2008
[S]pace is an area where we have methodically, almost with genius, allowed bureaucracy to avoid success. The combination of the Air Force’s parochialism and NASA’s bureaucracy, we are now at least 25 years behind where we should be.
— Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House, 2016
[The Russian and Chinese] space threat has developed with alarming speed. And yet, during the same time period, the Department of Defense [the Air Force] has significantly reduced research and development dedicated to space systems [by 80%].
— John McCain, Senator and Chairman of the SASC, 2017
American spacepower has stagnated under US Air Force stewardship. This situation was observed nearly twenty-five years ago and continues, as the epigraphs above indicate. However, nothing substantive has been done to fix the problem. This paper recommends the creation of a US Space Corps in the Department of the Air Force as an initial step to set American spacepower on a path to reach its full potential.
Ultimately, America’s national security interests in Space will best be served when Congress creates an independent US Space Force, just as it created independent services for land, sea, and air, uniting them under the Department of Defense. Space operations are becoming ever more critical to American and global economic interests and military power projection to a degree that warrants a devoted service. The expertise required to operate in Space is so fundamentally different and specialized, and the space-minded perspective so altogether different, that it will never serve the nation to have this expertise and perspective under-resourced and buried under another service. An independent space force would have the freedom to develop the best thinking on space operations, to develop the best expertise, to provide the best military advice to President and theater combatant commanders, to stand on equal footing before Congress, and be able to compete directly for missions and resources.
But rushing straight toward to the goal can do more harm than good. Creating a separate space force too quickly would introduce many gaps in capabilities that would slow rather than advance American spacepower. The interim measure of creating a US Space Corps in the Department of the Air Force would set the nation on the path toward an independent space force in a manner that is fiscally and organizationally supportable without incurring the costs of moving too fast.
This paper explains why the US Space Corps is needed and makes specific recommendations to Congress for its creation. It also makes recommendations to the President for adjusting space policies in a manner that will empower Space Corpsman to secure America’s vital national interests in Space in these trying times. Threats are rising while entrepreneurs are on the verge of a global expansion into space that may dwarf previous eras of economic growth. The changes proposed herein are designed to encourage and secure exploration and commercial development in Space by all lawful and non-hostile users of Space—regardless of nationality.
Why We Must Change
In 2001, the so-called “Rumsfeld Space Commission” was cited as a last chance for the Air Force to “get it right” in Space, before Congress would act to reorganize the national security space community, possibly by creating a separate space force. The Commission made several recommendations to advance spacepower, most of which were implemented begrudgingly by an Air Force whose heroic airpower culture struggled to accommodate “space geeks” as equals. However, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, occurring only a few months after the publication of the Commission’s report, the Air Force took advantage of the distraction and reversed or morphed the implementation of the recommendations more in line with their original thinking. Making matters worse for American spacepower, the decision was made (supported by the Air Force) to eliminate the Unified Combatant Command for space, US Space Command. The reason given was to make a four-star general officer’s billet available to command the newly established US Northern Command—as if Congress would not authorize a new billet for such a critical position.
In the years since, the Secretary of the Air Force eliminated the National Security Space Office, which served not only as the Space Staff to the Secretary of the Air Force, but also as the National Space Architect, and the integration center for Defense and Intelligence space acquisitions and operations. In its place was established the much smaller Department of Defense Executive Agent for Space Staff, which carried out staffing functions for the Secretary’s role as the executive agent for specified space matters. Later this was changed to the Principal Department of Defense Space Advisor staff. These changes not only removed chairs from the deck, but also kept the remaining chairs moving around giving the appearance that space was being given at least some priority.
It is easy to understand why the advancement of American spacepower has stalled under the US Air Force. For very reasonable organizational and bureaucratic reasons, spacepower simply cannot receive the priority it deserves inside the US Air Force. Everything else will be sacrificed for the airpower mission. As a matter of culture, this is the right thing to do. Carl Builder, a RAND analyst working a project for the Air Force Chief of Staff, pointed out in the Icarus Syndrome that spacepower is a competing faction that airpower advocates must hold at bay. The lesson being, no matter how vital spacepower becomes to the nation, if it is assigned to the Air Force, or any other service or agency, it will always receive short shrift.
The problem is far worse than simple competition between airpower and spacepower. The Air Force has figured out a clever way to rob from the space budget in order to pay bills on the aviation side, and then get more money from Congress. As James B. Armor, Jr. described it in 2008, after retiring as a major general having served as a Space Professional for 34 years, “Every year there’s a process game where the Air Force cuts the space budget and the OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) and Congress, with the loud support of the services and agencies that depend on Air Force space systems, restore it. Cynics point out that this is a Machiavellian way to increase the total Air Force budget—which works.” It seems the principal interest of the Air Force in Space has less to do with securing America’s vital national interests there, and more to do with using the space budget for other purposes.
There are long-standing and emerging threats to America’s critical satellites that are going unaddressed. As Alabama Congressman, Mike Rogers, Chair of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, pointed out, space is often treated like the “red-headed stepchild....What we have got to recognize is that our adversaries know that we cannot fight and win a war without using space, and they have developed offensive capabilities that we have not done a good enough job of being prepared to respond to.” Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Arms Serviced Committee, points to rapidly advancing threats; “Russia and China are developing military capabilities explicitly to deny US forces the use of space, including by targeting our satellites.” It seems America’s dependence on space systems grows, but the threats grow faster.
Advocates of the status quo argue that a US Space Corps would be too small in terms of personnel and budget to warrant its creation. Many also argue that creating a separate US Space Corps would add needlessly to the bureaucracy in Washington DC. Such criticisms do not hold water when considering that preserving the status quo means continued stagnation at a time when space systems have become vital to national interests and remain critically vulnerable to emerging adversaries. In short, a space bureaucracy is needed to ensure America’s interests in Space receive the attention they deserve. As evidenced above, Space Professionals cannot count on the Air Force to represent their interests fairly among national decision makers. America deserves to hear from its Space Professionals directly.
Some argue that Air Force Space Command does not yet have a warfighting culture, therefore it is too early to give it autonomy inside the Air Force as the US Space Corps. Ironically, this is an argument the US Army used to prevent granting autonomy to its air arm between the world wars. The culture of Air Force Space Command is decidedly different from the rest of the Air Force precisely because flying is not its mission. In addition, Space Professionals do more than go to war or train for war. Space Professionals provide services from the satellite systems they control into every theater around the globe continuously, in both peace and wartime, to civilians and military personnel, alike. It makes little sense to organize space units as if they were flying units, or space personnel as if they were fliers, but this is what is done today. The Air Force even assigns the heraldry (unit logos, patches, customs, traditions, and histories) of famous flying units of the past to today’s space squadrons, groups, and wings. The message is not subtle, the Air Force does not value space, spacepower, or its Space Professionals. It does, however, value the space budget’s contribution to airpower.
An astute student of history will note that the complaints that Space Professionals have about Air Force stewardship are the same kind of complaints that earlier generations of Airmen leveled against the Army during the interwar years. To paraphrase Mark Twain, history may not be repeating itself, but it seems to rhyme. Something must be done.
Recommendations to Congress
Congress created the US Army Air Corps and later the US Army Air Force to give Airmen autonomy within the Army and the ability to grow American airpower to its fullest potential. They succeeded. Now Congress must create the US Space Corps to give Space Professionals similar autonomy within the Air Force, and a mandate to grow American spacepower to its fullest potential.
Presented below is a list of actions that Congress should take before midterm elections in 2018 to establish the US Space Corps. This will create independent advocacy for spacepower inside the Department of Defense. This is matched with the ability for Space Professionals to establish program priorities with the budgetary authority to execute them without interference. The organizational changes recommended below remove Space Professionals from the stifling airpower culture that drives sub-optimization of Space plans, programs, and operations. These changes would fuel a new Space-centric culture dedicated to advancing American spacepower. The goal, of course, is to secure the heavens for all lawful and non-hostile users of Space.
- Establish the US Air Force Space Corps
Congress should re-designate Air Force Space Command as the US Space Corps with its commander being designated the Commandant. Cyber-related elements of Air Force Space Command need to be vested elsewhere within the Air Force. What to do with the cyber roles, missions, and personnel in the Air Force is beyond the scope of this work.
The Commandant of the US Space Corps should be in the rank of general and should report directly to the Secretary of the Air Force. This relationship should be similar to that of the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy, and follows the legacy of the US Army Air Corps. This action moves Space Corpsmen out from under the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and creates a distinct spacepower culture that is free to develop its own customs and traditions to advance American spacepower aggressively into the twenty-first century. With this comes the responsibility to recruit, train, organize, equip, and educate Space Corpsmen to the same professional level as their fellow combatants in the other services, consistent with Defense and Joint guidance. This includes establishing a separate and distinct assignment, promotion, and rank system that more closely matches the mission and personnel development requirements of a spacepower-focused organization.
A Space Corpsman in the rank of Lieutenant General should replace the newly appointed Commandant of the US Space Corps as commander of space forces formerly assigned to Air Force Space Command. This appointment makes it possible for the Commandant of the US Space Corps to establish headquarters at the Pentagon. The headquarters of the US Space Corps shall be to the US Air Force, as the US Marine Corps is to the US Navy.
The Commandant of the Space Corps will sit as a voting member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on all space-related issues. The Space Corps will also proffer independent inputs to the Quadrennial Defense Review, and establish its own budgeting and programing priorities. It will develop its own tactical, operational, and strategic organizational doctrine, and participate in the formulation of joint and allied space doctrine.
To the Space Corps should be added the space-related systems and personnel of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The NRO should be incorporated into the US Space Corps with its leadership and culture intact. This point must be re-emphasized; the leadership and culture of the NRO must be respected, and so should their ways of doing business for the unique set of customers they serve. The Director of the NRO should remain in place and be recognized as a 3-star equivalent reporting to the Commandant of the US Space Corps, with all existing support agreements kept in place.
Over time, the US Space Corps will assume management of all space-related manning, training, equipping, budgeting, and other command functions for all space elements under its purview. In essence, the US Space Corps will be comprised of two subordinate commands, one in the Department of the Air Force (elements currently assigned to Air Force Space Command) and the other in the Intelligence Community (elements currently assigned to the NRO).
The Army and Navy will retain their space commands. They shall remain constituted as those services see fit. Army and Navy space commands will place warranted emphasis on developing, in concert with the US Space Corps, user equipment, theater coordination, and any space-based packages or whole satellites which a service feels are essential and proprietary to their needs.
The Secretary of the Air Force will establish a dedicated Pentagon-based Space Staff of not more than 300 military and civilian personnel, commanded at the Pentagon by the Commandant. The Space Staff will provide administrative support, legal and policy development, interagency coordination, and legislative liaison. It will assume from the Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, those space-related functions best suited for the Space Staff.
Just as the US Naval Academy commissions a proportionate number of its graduates into the US Marine Corps, the US Air Force Academy should also graduate a proportionate number of graduates into the US Space Corps. More space-related academics and programs must be provided at the US Air Force Academy and at the Air University for those pursuing careers as Space Corpsmen. Similarly, the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corp and Officer Training School should serve as recruiting and commissioning sources for the US Space Corps, with opportunities to specialize in those skills required of an US Space Corps officer. To recruit enlisted personnel, Space Corps recruiters should work with Air Force recruiters. Space Corps-specific basic training should be provided for Space Corpsmen, along with continuing education throughout their careers.
- Establish a Major Force Program for Space
Congress should establish a Major Force Program for the US Space Corps and should fund it to secure and advance America’s interests in Space. Budget and program requests will be made using the well-established methods used by the services. This action places budget and programming authority with the Commandant of the Space Corps through the Secretary of the Air Force, in line with the organizational design of the Secretary of the Navy to the US Marine Corps.
Whenever possible, the US Space Corps will share bases, facilities, and costs with joint and allied partners. Bases and facilities that are entirely dedicated to space missions will be the sole responsibility of the US Space Corps. Where necessary, separate bases, facilities, and institutions will be created to enhance the US Space Corps’ ability to perform its missions in Space.
- Establish a Geographic Unified Combatant Command for Space
Congress should re-establish US Space Command, but this time as a Geographic Unified Combatant Command. Presently, US Strategic Command serves as the Functional Unified Combatant Command for Space, in addition to the nuclear and cyber missions as well. Those other functions compete with space missions for leadership’s attention, and budgetary priorities. Space is a place, and for that reason alone it warrants a dedicated Geographic Unified Combatant Command. In addition, such a Unified Command is needed because Space-based systems have become the center of gravity for not only America’s military operations and economic security, but more importantly, for high-tech societies, the American way of life, and Western civilization. Space systems have become a most lucrative and irresistible target for our increasingly capable opponents to attack. Under some of the most likely and dangerous scenarios, the Commander of US Space Command will be designated the Supported Commander, allowing that commander to direct or request other combatant commanders to engage terrestrial targets in order to suppress or destroy various threats to space systems, which could span the globe.
The Commander of US Space Command will execute offensive and defensive counterspace missions, as necessary, to secure American and allied access to space services and to defend national interests from hostile and illegal actions in Space. Commensurate with this responsibility is assuring freedom of access and use of space by all lawful and non-hostile actors, regardless of national origin. Proportionality of action will be consistent with the Law of Armed Conflict.
The Commander of US Space Command, as a Geographic Unified Combatant Commander, will sit as a member of the Joint Requirements Oversight Committee. In that role, the commander will vet independently prioritized requirements for space roles, missions, and programs of record. This is critical because it allows to the Commander of US Space Command and the Commandant of the US Space Corps to ensure space roles, missions, and programs receive top priorities and the funding to execute them.
Recommendations to the President
To bolster the ability of the US Space Corps to secure the heavens, the President should implement the recommendations appearing below as soon as possible. Doing so will normalize the legal and regulatory environment of space. This will permit the inclusion of space into the global economic sphere more readily and allow for proper security strategies to protect America’s vital national interests there.
- Declassify What is Known About Space Threats
The President should direct the declassification of previous and on-going attacks on satellites of US and foreign registry. More importantly, information regarding existing and suspected threats to our space systems should also be declassified, as much as possible. The debate about space security stalled decades ago because classification barriers prevented an informed public discussion—a problem that persists today. As a result, a cottage industry of arms control enthusiasts leap at the opportunity to criticize claims of space threats issued by space and intelligence professionals. Even when members of Congress or the media sound the alarm they are shouted down as lackeys of the military-industrial complex because the public is not provided specific examples or evidence. Regardless of how outlandish the claims coming from arms control enthusiasts may be, their arguments go unanswered because the countering evidence is classified. It becomes impossible for the defense community to make its case.
Keeping excessive classification barriers in place undermines national security and enables detractors. It plays into hands of foreign intelligence operatives who work behind the scenes to make Americans self-deterred from developing defenses against the real threats posed by their governments. They promote arguments claiming that whatever defenses America proposes 1) won’t work, 2) will cost too much, and 3) will trigger an arms race leading to war. Defeating disingenuous arguments with the truth is the best way forward.
There are four groups who seek to keep the classification barriers in place regarding the current and future contested nature of space. It is important to be aware of them, and to keep in mind that each has a set of valid concerns which must be considered. First, realists prefer keeping space matters classified for fear of empowering adversaries with too much information. Second, idealists persist with the narrative of “space as a sanctuary” in fear that time is running out to establish some international mechanism that will prevent warfare from extending further than it already has into space. Third, the commercial satellite industry does not want space threats disclosed in fear of losing customers if it is revealed how easily their services can be negated in a number of inexpensive ways. Finally, Air Force leaders are not anxious to declassify space threats in fear of exposing the lack of attention it has given to spacepower over the last few decades, in spite of its rhetoric to the contrary. The Air Force sincerely does its best, but it goes without saying that an air force must make airpower its priority. And so, it has.
- Discontinue Publishing National Space Policies and the National Security Space Strategies
The President should eliminate requirements to publish National Space Policies and National Security Space Strategies. They are highly detrimental to the normalization and advancement of American spacepower. Similar documents are not published for air, land, or sea. The services which secure those operating environments would never permit such documents to be published because they stifle discussion, debate, and innovation. This is because they are often interpreted as each administration’s final word on policy, regardless of the context. Making matters worse, they open administrations to needless criticisms from their political adversaries, at home and abroad.
Normalizing US Space Corps operations requires adopting strategic communications methods in-line with the other services. Unique documents, such as National Space Policies and National Security Space Strategies written for public or foreign audiences with official imprimatur is unhelpful. Just as the other services address continuously-evolving policy issues in service-specific journals, newspapers, and other media, so too should the US Space Corps.
- Replace the Outer Space Treaty
The President should execute the exit clause found in Article 17 of the Outer Space Treaty, giving a year’s notice to the United Nations that the US will withdraw from the Treaty. This should be done because the Treaty creates legal ambiguity that undermines the use of Space for normal human activities such as defending satellites, obtaining property rights, and developing space resources for commercial purposes. This complicates security planning and frustrates entrepreneurs seeking financing and insurance for space ventures.
Created at the height of the Moon race between the two principle Cold War antagonists and others, the Outer Space Treaty was designed to prevent either power from claiming sovereignty over the entire Moon upon arriving first. Unfortunately, it forbids any national appropriation of real estate and resources in Space. This prevents the issuance of property deeds and the awarding of resource rights to any part of the planets, moons, and asteroids. This frustrates commercial and private entities whose business plans require legal clarity. Adding to the ambiguity are assertions in the Treaty that space is for peaceful purposes and for the benefit of all people. This clouds the issue of defending vital national interests in Space and of negating hostile or unlawful activities conducted in Space by other parties. In addition, the notion of sharing profits from Space with all people ruins most business models. In sum, the Outer Space Treaty is a legal and financial impediment to the secure development and commercialization of resources in Space, as humans do on Earth.
Upon notifying the United Nations of the intention to exit the Outer Space Treaty, the President should announce the intention to join with other nations to draft and ratify a new treaty. The new treaty governing Space should expressly encourage the development and utilization of space resources for free market purposes. The new treaty should permit private and national appropriation of property in Space, including on the planets, moons, and asteroids.
From the standpoint of the US Space Corps, the new space treaty must ensure that nations can take all necessary measures to secure their resources in Space, or on bodies in Space, such as the planets, moons, asteroids, and comets, inter alia. All actions taken in Space should be compliant with the Law of Armed Conflict, provisions in international law, and treaties to which the spacefaring state is a party. In effect, the new treaty normalizes Space and the objects therein as places for normal human behavior.
This is the century wherein humans will settle the Moon and Mars, harvest mineral resources from asteroids, and broadcast space solar power safely and cleanly wherever human and machine activity ensues. These transformative actions will take human interests far beyond Earth. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen will remain Earth-Centric thinkers. Only an autonomous Space Corps, and eventually a Space Force, can develop beyond-Earth thinkers who will “Secure the Heavens for All.”
The time to set a course for an independent autonomous US Space Force arrived twenty-five years ago. Since then, America has dragged its feet and done nothing meaningful to secure its vital national interests in Space. Inaction allowed old and new adversaries to develop counterspace systems (weapons) that now hold our most critical satellites and the signals they provide, at risk. As Dr. Colin S. Gray and John Sheldon pointed out two decades ago, “If you fail to achieve a healthy measure of space control in the larger of the possible wars of the next century, you will lose.” America is on a course to lose.
Now America has to play catch-up by pressing ahead with a sense of urgency. First, Congress must establish a US Space Corps. At the same time, a Major Force Program for the US Space Corps must be established, along with a Geographic Unified Combatant Command for Space. To normalize America’s activities in Space, publishing unique documents such as the National Space Policies and National Security Space Strategies must end. In addition, America must throw off the shackles of the current Outer Space Treaty, and create a new treaty with like-minded nations in order to promote and secure the normal commercial development of the real estate and resources in Space. Eventually, Congress must act to create a wholly independent US Space Force in order to secure America’s vital national interests in Space in the future. It is time for action.
 During the author’s thirty years on active duty, he served in various flying, space, and missile assignments, most notably as a Space Weapons Officer. Presently he is a professor of strategic space studies at the eSchool of Graduate Professional Military Education at the Air University. The opinions and recommendation herein are the author’s and may not reflect those of the Air University, the United States Air Force, or the Department of Defense.
 Benjamin S. Lambeth, Mastering the Ultimate High Ground (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2003), 61-95. Note: The “Rumsfeld Space Commission” is the commonly used short title for the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization.
 An apt description of the difficulty of the Air Force’s airpower culture accepting “space geeks” can be found in Benjamin S. Lambeth, The Transformation of American Airpower (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), 234.
 Eligar Sadeh and Brenda Vallence, “The Policy Process,” in Damon Coletta and Francis Pilch, eds., Space and Defense Policy (NY, NY: Routledge, 2009), 133.
 Peter L. Hays, “Space and the Military,” in Damon Coletta and Francis Pilch, eds., Space and Defense Policy (NY, NY: Routledge, 2009), 156.
 Col Mark Bucknam (Joint Staff, Pentagon), in discussion with the author, June 2002.
 Maj Gen James B. Armor, cited in this article multiple times, was the last military commander of the National Security Space Office.
 Christopher M. Stone (Formerly of the DoD Executive Agent for Space Staff), interviewed by the author, 17 September, 2016.
 John J. “Patsy” Klein (Principal Department of Defense Space Adviser Staff), interviewed by the author, 17 March 2016.
 Armor, “The Air Force’s Other Blind Spot,” 4.
 Carl H. Builder, The Icarus Syndrome (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1996), 7.
 Armor, “The Air Force’s Other Blind Spot,” 3.
 Quoted in Christy Riggins, “Star Wars: Alabama Congressman Advocates for Developing Space Defense Technology,” Yellowhammer, 7 December 2016,
 R. Earl McClendon, Autonomy of the Air Arm (1954; repr., Washington DC: Office of Air Force History, 1996), 1-47. Robert P. White, Mason Patrick and the Fight for Air Service Independence (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001), 44-58. Herman S. Wolk, The Struggle for Air Force Independence (Washington DC: Office of Air Force History, 1997), 1-47. DeWitt S. Coup, A Few Great Captains (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980), xiv-xix.
 The need for a US Space Corps was argued convincingly in Maj Gen James B. Armor, Jr., “Viewpoint: It is Time to Create a United States Air Force Space Corps,” Astropolitics 5, no. 3, (September-December 2007): 273-288.
 Marc Dinerstein, DM (Colonel, USAF-Ret, formerly of Air Force and US Space Commands, the National Security Space Office and the DoD Executive Agent for Space Staff), interview by the author, 15 January 2017.
 Joan Johnson-Freese and Theresa Hitchens, “Stop the Fearmongering over War in Space: The Sky’s Not Falling, Part 1,” Breaking Defense, 27 December 2016,
 The “Outer Space Treaty” is the common verbiage for the “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.” It was signed in London, Moscow, and Washington on 27 January 1967, and entered effect on 10 October 1967.
 Everett C. Dolman, Astropolitik: Classic Geopolitics in the Space Age (London, UK: Frank Cass Publishers, 2002), 140-1.
 Eva-Jane Lark (Advocate, Space Frontier Foundation), interview by the author, 15 January 2017.
 Colin S. Gray and John B. Sheldon, “Space Power and the Revolution in Military Affairs: A Glass Half Full?” Airpower Journal 13, no. 3, (Fall 1999): 36.