The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

While the US Air Force runs a wide range of military space programs, including classified activities like the X-37B, some think it pays far less attention to space issues than an independent force would. (credit: US Air Force)

America needs a space corps

It’s time for the Pentagon to create an independent orbital military service

<< page 1: recommendations to Congress

Recommendations to the President

To bolster the ability of the 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.

1. Declassify what is known about space threats

The President should direct the declassification of previous and ongoing 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.

Keeping excessive classification barriers in place undermines national security and enables detractors.

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.18 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 won’t work, will cost too much, and 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 that 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 space power 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 air power its priority. And so, it has.

2. 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 space power. Similar documents are not published for air, land or sea.

The Space Corps should adopt 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, are unhelpful.

The services that 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.

The Space Corps should adopt 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, are unhelpful. Just as the other services address continuously-evolving policy issues in service-specific journals, newspapers, and other media, so too should the Space Corps.

3. Reinterpret, amend, or replace the Outer Space Treaty

The President should clarify the legal environment in which the Space Corps operates and promote the goals of commercial development of space resources and human settlement beyond Earth. This should be done (in order of preference) by reinterpreting, amending, or replacing the Outer Space Treaty with language that facilitates rather than frustrates attaining these goals.19

In such a legal environment, the Space Corps would assume similar roles and missions as the US Coast Guard.

In addition to operating America’s security-related space systems, the Space Corps should be charged with protecting life, the space environment and US economic interests in space, as well as spaceports, to support the rule of law and national security. It should operate as both a constabulary and a martial body, as necessary, to ensure all lawful and non-hostile actors enjoy the full benefits of spacefaring, regardless of national origin.

Created at the height of the moon race between the two principal 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. It succeeded. 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, without a potential legal contest. This also 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, for the benefit of all people, and that any state that is party to the treaty who perceives an action by another that has the potential to cause harmful interference with any system in space may call for consultations of an unspecified nature.20

This clouds the issue of whether humans shall have the basic rights to profit from the fruits of their labor, to own private property, or to exercise their right of self-defense in space. These principles are enshrined in the United Nations Charter and various documents and declarations of human rights on Earth. Why would they be abridged in space?

Until these issues are clarified, the Outer Space Treaty will remain a legal and financial impediment to further commercial development of space resources and the ability to secure and defend such interests.

From the standpoint of the Space Corps, new language 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, space and the objects therein should be places for normal human behavior and the pursuit of interests.

The time to set a course for an independent autonomous Space Force arrived 25 years ago. Since then, America has dragged its feet.

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.21 These transformative actions will take human interests far beyond Earth. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen will remain Earth-centric thinkers.

Only an autonomous US Space Corps, and eventually a US Space Force, can develop beyond-Earth thinkers who will “Secure the Heavens for All.”


The time to set a course for an independent autonomous Space Force arrived 25 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 weapons that now hold our most critical satellites and the signals they provide, at risk. As 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.”22 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 Space Corps. At the same time, a Major Force Program for the full Space Corps enterprise must be established, along with a Geographic Unified Combatant Command for Space.

To enable the necessary debate about space security, the President must direct a declassification of most withheld space information. In addition, publishing out-of-step documents such as the National Space Policies and National Security Space Strategies must end.

Finally, America must throw off the shackles of the current Outer Space Treaty, and create language 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 Space Force in order to secure America’s vital national interests in space in the future. It is time for action.

  1. James B. Armor, Jr., “The Air Force’s Other Blind Spot,” The Space Review (Monday, 15 September 2008): 3.
  2. 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.
  3. An apt description of the difficulty of the Air Force’s air power culture accepting “space geeks” can be found in Benjamin S. Lambeth, The Transformation of American Airpower (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), 234.
  4. Eligar Sadeh and Brenda Vallence, “The Policy Process,” in Damon Coletta and Francis Pilch, eds., Space and Defense Policy (NY, NY: Routledge, 2009), 133.
  5. Peter L. Hays, “Space and the Military,” in Damon Coletta and Francis Pilch, eds., Space and Defense Policy (NY, NY: Routledge, 2009), 156.
  6. Col. Mark Bucknam (Joint Staff, Pentagon), in discussion with the author, June 2002.
  7. Maj. Gen. James B. Armor, cited in this article multiple times, was the last military commander of the National Security Space Office.
  8. Christopher M. Stone (Formerly of the DoD Executive Agent for Space Staff), interviewed by the author, September 17, 2016.
  9. Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, to secretaries of the military departments, et al., memorandum, subject: Designation of the Principle DoD Space Adviser, October 5, 2015.
  10. Armor, “The Air Force’s Other Blind Spot,” 4.
  11. Carl H. Builder, The Icarus Syndrome (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1996), 7.
  12. Armor, “The Air Force’s Other Blind Spot,” 3.
  13. Quoted in Christy Riggins, “Star Wars: Alabama Congressman Advocates for Developing Space Defense Technology,” Yellowhammer, December 7, 2016.
  14. John McCain, “Restoring American Power,” Office of the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, 16 January 2017.
  15. R. Earl McClendon, Autonomy of the Air Arm (1954; repr., Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1996), 1–47. Robert P. White, Mason Patrick and the Fight for Air Service Independence (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001), 44–58. Herman S. Wolk, The Struggle for Air Force Independence (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1997), 1–47. DeWitt S. Coup, A Few Great Captains (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980), xiv-xix.
  16. 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.
  17. Marc Dinerstein, DM (Colonel, USAF-Ret., formerly of Air Force and US Space Command, the National Security Space Office and the DoD Executive Agent for Space Staff), interview by the author, January 15, 2017.
  18. Joan Johnson-Freese and Theresa Hitchens, “Stop the Fearmongering over War in Space: The Sky’s Not Falling, Part 1,” Breaking Defense, December 27, 2016.
  19. 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 entered effect on 10 October 1967.
  20. Outer Space Treaty.
  21. Eva-Jane Lark (Advocate, Space Frontier Foundation), interview by the author, January 15, 2017.
  22. 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.