Can the Space Force repair its image and be taken seriously?

Mike Bebernes
·Senior Editor
·5 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

The Space Force is here to stay. President Biden is “not revisiting” the decision to establish America’s newest military branch, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday. The question of its existence has been settled, but the Space Force still faces major questions about its future now that Donald Trump — who aggressively lobbied Congress to create the new service — is no longer in office.

Some people might consider the Space Force to be a product of Trump’s imagination, but the concept of consolidating the U.S. military’s various space-related activities into a single, independent branch has been around for decades. Though its name conjures images of space troopers engaged in zero-gravity warfare, the Space Force’s mission is largely made up of less glamorous Earth-bound operations like defending America’s satellites from sabotage.

The Space Force was established just over a year ago when Air Force Space Command was separated into its own service. With 16,000 military and civilian personnel, it is by far the smallest of the U.S. military branches.

From the beginning, the Space Force has been mocked by many of Trump’s critics as a fantastical creation that was a better fit for science fiction than the actual armed forces. Announcements made by the service over the past year — like the unveiling of its “Star Trek”-reminiscent insignia and its choice to call its personnel “guardians” — have sparked fresh rounds of online jokes.

Why there’s debate

The No. 1 short-term goal of the Space Force, many argue, should be working to convince the public to take it seriously. Doing that will require a program to explain the service’s actual, less fantastical mission and how important it is to U.S. security. The Space Force may benefit from working to distance itself from Trump, whose association with the service has politicized its existence in the eyes of many Americans. Some say that this will be impossible and the best path is to disband the Space Force and return its functions back to the Air Force.

In the next few years, the Space Force faces the task of building out its capabilities to deal with a growing list of challenges in space — everything from Russian anti-satellite missiles to commercial space travel to potentially destructive space junk. To address these issues, the Space Force will need more financial and logistical support from the government, experts argue.

Space also presents important diplomatic opportunities that the Space Force can play a central role in. With more countries investing in space operations, the U.S. must abandon Trump’s goal of establishing “American dominance in space” and instead work to create international agreements that promote cooperation among nations, some say. Without a more peaceful posture, disputes that start in space could spill over into war down on Earth, some experts fear.

Perspectives

The Space Force needs to justify its existence in the eyes of the American people

“The Space Force and [Department of Defense] need to do a better job explaining why the Space Force is needed, or what good the Space Force does absent why Donald Trump was pushing it, because he was pushing it for his own political gain. They need to make an argument for why the existence of the Space Force has benefits outside of Trump’s political gain.” — Space operations expert Brian Weeden to Politico

The Space Force must de-emphasize its war-making capabilities

“A space war is not inevitable. The best way for the Biden administration to prevent one is to treat orbit as a commons, and the Space Force as a kind of traffic control agent. ... To support this, the Biden administration should deemphasize the Space Force’s fighting role.” — Kelsey D. Atherton, Slate

It needs more support to be ready for the challenges it will face

“Space Force really needed to be stood up to remain competitive with the very real threats coming from our nearest adversaries. We can’t afford to neglect that domain.” — Aerospace consultant James Marceau to Los Angeles Times

The Space Force can help build international cooperation in space

“Under his command, it could take the lead in promoting peacemaking missions with other space forces, as well as forging economic ties — all to build a stable space community. Doing so would fulfill Biden’s goal of resuming American leadership in the world while preventing future catastrophe.” — Theo Zenou, Washington Post

Biden can help show the public that this is a serious military branch

“It might not hurt for the president to offer some kind of reset, to remind Americans that the Space Force is not a political prop, but a group of hardworking military professionals.” — Marina Koren, Atlantic

The Space Force should be dissolved

“Mr. Biden, I beg you: Abolish the Space Force.” — Sarah Jones, New York

Space-based conflict could erupt at any time

“They’ve got a lot of other stuff to deal with, from COVID to climate change to the economy. But they’d better be ready to deal with space issues soon because you never know when a crisis might arise.” — Defense analyst Todd Harrison to SpaceNews

The Space Force needs to prove it’s capable of handling its mission

“The amount of money going to the Space Force should be low and slow as they prove they can be responsible stewards. I think if we send a lot of money to that service, we would be increasing program risk unnecessarily.” — Defense analyst Mandy Smithberger to Defense News

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Reuters