HOME WELCOME ARTICLES ARCHIVES BIOGRAPHY FEEDBACK BLOG LINKS America’s Newest Military Branch Celebrates its First Birthday

This month marks the first birthday of the U.S. Space Force (USSF). And fittingly, USSF chief of space operations Gen. John Raymond is set to receive a very unique present: a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This is just one of many milestones America’s newest military branch has achieved during its first year in existence.


Most Americans are unaware of how busy the USSF has been in the past 12 months.

Last December, the USSF began tracking satellites, supporting military launches, and operating the U.S. constellation of GPS satellites, upon which most Americans depend for the everyday stuff of modern life.

In January, less than a month after the USSF’s birth, Iran launched missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq. “Members of the U.S. Space Force detected those missiles at launch and provided early warning to our forces,” as USSF vice-chief of space operations Gen. David Thompson reported.

In March, the USSF activated and began manning the new Counter Communications System—a ground-based weapons system designed to jam enemy satellite signals during hostilities.

In May, Raymond signed an order shifting Operation Olympic Defender from U.S. Strategic Command to U.S. Space Command. Led by the U.S. and Britain, Olympic Defender is an international partnership “intended to optimize space operations…enhance resilience…synchronize U.S. efforts with some of its closest allies…strengthen allies’ abilities to deter hostile acts in space, strengthen deterrence against hostile actors, and reduce the spread of debris orbiting the earth,” as the Pentagon explains. Japan, Spain, France, Italy, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are expected to participate in Olympic Defender.

In August, the USSF published a “spacepower doctrine” that details “why spacepower is vital for our nation, how military spacepower is employed, who military space forces are and what military space forces value.” The precedent-setting document parallels the Pentagon’s landpower, seapower and airpower doctrines.

And the USSF recently stood up an orbital warfare unit, which is tasked with operating the super-secret X-37B unmanned spaceplane.


The reason the USSF has been so busy is obvious to anyone who follows national security: “The scope, scale and complexity of the threat to our space capabilities is real, and it’s concerning,” Raymond explains.

That threat emanates largely from two sources: China and Russia.

A U.S. government report notes that Beijing “views space as a critical U.S. military and economic vulnerability.” With an eye on exploiting that vulnerability, China has created a Strategic Support Force responsible for operations “involving satellite-on-satellite attacks,” according to RAND.

Recent Pentagon reports add that China has “the most rapidly maturing space program in the world”; is developing doctrines geared toward “destroying, damaging and interfering” with enemy satellites; and is acquiring technologies to accelerate “counter-space capabilities,” including lasers, satellite jammers and anti-satellite (ASAT) weaponry.

China has conducted at least three ASAT tests in recent years. A 2007 ASAT test conducted by China “was a clarifying event,” according to Gen. Chance Saltzman, USSF deputy chief. “I can almost chart from there the establishment of the Space Force...suddenly space was contested.”

Russia, which stood up an Aero-Space Forces command in 2015, is conducting ASAT tests far more frequently than China. Moscow’s April 2020 ASAT test is believed to be its ninth test of a “direct ascent” ASAT in recent years. In July 2020, Russia tested a satellite-borne kill vehicle. This followed a similar test in 2017 when Russia deployed a satellite that "launched a high-speed projectile into space," as Raymond recently revealed.

In addition, the Russian military has deployed satellites capable of “rendezvous and proximity operations”—military parlance for maneuvering around other satellites to monitor, disrupt and/or disable them. In February 2020, Raymond reported that two Russian satellites were shadowing a U.S. Keyhole satellite in what he called “unusual and disturbing” behavior.


The reason China’s and Russia’s actions are so concerning is the reason the USSF was created: “Space underpins every bit of our national power,” Raymond explains. Indeed, the American people depend on space for communications, commerce, air and ground transport, navigation at sea, emergency services, and national security.

Of the 2,218 operational satellites in orbit, 1,007 are owned and operated by U.S. firms, government agencies, or military units. An attack on those satellites, as Raymond and his Russian and Chinese counterparts know, would cripple America’s satellite-dependent way of life and render America’s anything-but-self-sufficient citizenry blind, deaf, silenced, hungry and cut off.

The USSF exists to prevent that terrifying possibility, which brings us to the national-security aspects of space. Missile-defense ships prowling the Pacific, soldiers guarding the 38th Parallel, UCAVs circling over Africa's lawless regions, fighter-bombers loitering above Middle East hotspots, air squadrons and armored battalions protecting the Baltics, carrier strike groups defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, Marine Expeditionary Units watching Iran in the Persian Gulf, submarines serving as a silent deterrent, sensors monitoring Russian, Chinese and North Korean nukes, communications networks linking commanders, troops, weapons systems, and allies—all of these rely on space-based assets. Put another way: every branch is dependent on space.

No branch is more closely associated with terra firma than the Army. Yet as the Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson points out, a typical Army armored brigade “contains over 2,000 pieces of equipment that rely on space assets to function.”

The same applies to the Air Force and Navy. “Air superiority depends on space superiority,” says Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich. “The loss of space would mean naval battles would in many ways be like the game of Battleship, where the two sides would struggle to even find each other,” adds the New America Foundation’s Peter Singer.

In short, just as freedom of the seas was essential to preserving America’s way of life, independence, economic strength and national security in centuries past, so is freedom of space essential to preserving America’s way of life, independence, economic strength and national security this century. As with freedom of the seas, ensuring freedom of space depends on responsible powers deterring bad actors, dissuading reckless behavior and enforcing “rules of the road.”

The U.S. Space Force is developing personnel, systems, tools, procedures, and practices to transfer and apply those rules to space—and thus keep some semblance of peace. Indeed, the main mission of the USSF is not to wage war but to maintain peace. "Although space is a warfighting domain," Raymond observes, "our goal is to actually deter a conflict from extending into space. The best way I know how to do that is to be prepared to fight and win if deterrence were to fail."


America’s Space Force is not alone in this important mission. NATO has recognized space as an operational domain of warfare. Britain recently created a space command. France has carved out a space-defense command within the French air force. Japan has followed a similar path.

Add it all up, and it seems America is in good company and on solid ground as it builds a military branch dedicated to defending its interests and assets in space. Yet it pays to recall that when President Donald Trump announced plans in 2018 to stand up the Space Force, several media outlets dismissed the idea as a “space farce.” Some in the press called it “ridiculous.” Netflix even created a comedy series mocking the very notion of a branch focused on defending U.S. interests in space.

What the sneering pundits didn’t know then—and likely haven’t learned in the intervening months—is that the Space Force is in line with almost 60 years of policymaking.

President John Kennedy in 1962 called for America to occupy “a position of preeminence” in space and warned of “hostile misuse of space” by adversaries. President Ronald Reagan in 1982 declared that the U.S. would “oppose…prohibitions on the military or intelligence use of space.” President Bill Clinton in 1996 directed the Pentagon to “develop, operate and maintain space-control capabilities to ensure freedom of action in space and, if directed, deny such freedom of action to adversaries.” In 2001, a congressionally-appointed commission led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (who headed the Pentagon under President Gerald Ford and President George W. Bush) envisioned the establishment of “a Space Corps within the Air Force” to help “avoid a space Pearl Harbor.” In 2016, John Hamre (deputy secretary of Defense under Clinton) discussed the possibility of a “space service” within the Air Force. And in early 2019, a group of defense officials led by Defense Secretary William Perry (who headed the Pentagon under Clinton) urged "establishment of a new military service for space" to "deter conflict from beginning in or extending into space, and, if deterrence fails, to defeat hostile actions and protect our economic and national security interests."

In short, the U.S. Space Force is anything but a farce. It’s an idea whose time has come.