Image: Flickr/The White House
On Monday, the U.S. Space Force published Spacepower: Doctrine for Space Forces. The 40 page document outlines what the Space Force will actually do, defines the nature of war in space, and is our clearest window into how the budding Space Force thinks of itself.
More than just custodians of the cosmos, Space Force foresees war moving into the skies. “Just like warfare in any other domain, space warfare is a violent clash of opposing wills,” the document said.
Spacepower: Doctrine for Space Forces is a broad document that captures the majestic bullshit of a new branch of the military that’s struggling to justify its existence and is represented by a symbol that appears cribbed from Star Trek. But according to the document it, “represents our Service’s first articulation of an independent theory of spacepower.”
What, exactly, will Space Force be fighting in space? “The adversary in space warfare is never a spacecraft or some other inanimate system,” the document said. “Space warfare targets the mind of an adversary and seeks to neutralize their capability and will to resist.”
It’s a great line that doesn’t mean much. Despite this reference to targeting minds and not spacecraft, the document is full of allusions to violence. “Security, deterrence, and violent competition are the hallmarks of a warfighting force, and military space forces are no different. They shape the security environment, deter aggression, and apply lethal and nonlethal force in, from, and to space.”
Overall, the document is obsessed with defining terms and justifying Space Force’s existence. It images space as a violent frontier of human development, the next place humans will go to war with one another. There is a sense of nature violated and treaties eroded.
“Space was once a sanctuary from attack,” it said. “But the emergence, advanced development, and proliferation of a wide range of demonstrated counter space weapons by potential adversaries has reversed this paradigm.” Space Force is talking about anti-satellite weapons which everyone, including the United States, is absolutely working on.
This isn’t the first time that America imagined the vast and peaceful landscape of space would be disrupted by war. It has prepared for this before. In the 1950s, before America had landed on the moon, the Pentagon prepared to fight Russia on the moon. Then, as now, it argued that the best way to secure peace in the vast beyond was to be ready to fight anyone who intruded on whatever is considered U.S. territory in space.
“Although the primary purpose of man in space (on the moon or other planets) will not be to fight, he requires the capability to defend himself if necessary. If space is truly for peace, we must be strong there just as we are on earth,” the authors of the 1965 Pentagon research document The Meanderings of a Weapon Oriented Mind When Applied in a Vacuum Such as on the Moon wrote.
Spacepower: Doctrine for Space Forces reveals Space Force’s guiding principles to be the continuation of this Cold War thinking. Space will, it assumes, be a place of violence where terran powers fight for dominance.
“Adversaries compete in space, from space, and to space in order to achieve political aims and impose their will on opponents,” Spacepower said. “War emerges when the threat or application of military force introduces violence as a mode of interaction between adversaries. Military spacepower can deter behavior and enable access to critical information; however, it can also inflict lethal and non lethal violence against an opponent.”