A Coalition of the Willing

Some cursory remarks on the Space Force doctrine

It should come as no surprise, when reading a document drafted by the military, that the language involved will hit at the dreamy themes of destiny, mastery, and the perpetual march of progress. The United States Space Force (USSF) has published “Space Power: Doctrine for Space Forces,” a doctrine for the future of U.S. space security. As Gen. Jay Raymond, chief of the USSF space operations, states in a press release: “we will continue to evolve our doctrine to stay on the cutting edge of defending our interests in space.”[1] According to the press release, this doctrine came about as a “grass roots effort,”[2] and members of the drafting team “ranged in rank from Technical Sergeant to Colonel and also included a space professional from the U.S. Army.”[3] “Grassroots” is a funny way to describe an effort undertaken by the world’s largest military. Maybe they had Bernie on the brain, or are attempting to rebrand as a populist movement. Or, perhaps, they just didn’t feel like the higher-ups were congratulating them enough for their production of yet another iteration of the command and conquer doctrine (version #: SPACE).

Col. Casey Beard, commander of Space Delta 9,[4] says that the work on this doctrine “was a coalition of the willing.”[5] The phrase “coalition of the willing” is certainly telling here, as the phrase refers to the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. Bush’s use of that phrase was seen as an attempt to paint a picture of international support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as opposed to the unilateral transgression of an invading country. Of course, most of the “support” at that time was really no support at all, with the bulk of troops in 2003 consisting of 250,000 American troops, 45,000 British troops, and 2,000 Australian troops.[6] The remainder of the 40 some nations listed as “willing” either contributed essentially nothing, or outright stated their strong opposition to the war, with most of their nation’s populations fiercely against the invasion.[7] As this current doctrine was shaped by and shared with the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, we must assume that they are our “coalition of the willing” for the space invasion.[8]

The preface to the doctrine lays out the grand narrative and importance of space, as well as the states of competition between nations: “Once the great powers of the world competed for technological supremacy in outer space to demonstrate the superiority of their societies. To win was to be fastest, highest, farthest, or first. The United States and its Allies firmly won that early space race.”[9] Sorry Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet satellite and the Soviet cosmonaut who were their respective “firsts” to reach outer space. Also, the supposed difference between “highest" and “farthest” certainly relays a firmly geocentric orientation of our space to outer space, as a vertical axis of up-and-down—transposed upon a universe without direction—when viewing a higher object than the relative planet that launched it. Or in the words of Sun Ra, “Space is not only high, it’s low.” The Americans have gone the farthest with their Voyager 1 mission (13 billion miles), and the speed record in space was set by the Apollo 10 mission (24,790mph).[10] The Apollo 13 mission became the farthest manned spaceflight when it swung around the far side of the moon at a distance of 248,655 miles away from Earth.[11] NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe on August 12, 2018, which is on a mission to “touch the Sun,” and will indeed become the fastest human-made object in the universe, reaching speeds of up to 430,000mph as it continues to fly by the sun, as well as setting the record for the closest human-made object to the sun, coming within 3.9 million miles of the Sun.[12]

The preface continues: “Our destiny as a free country to strive even higher in space remains the same, but the need for security and defense—as only military force can provide—is the stark new reality of our mission.”[13] It is revealing that a document that makes little reference to international regulations, policy, or legislation, views the only avenue to security and defense as that which only the military force can provide. It continues that the “benefits of life on Earth from the exploitation of space are inescapable.”

The impetus: “Our draw to explore the unknown, our human love for uncovering our ignorance and replacing it with understanding, will only be possible if we secure the domain of orbital flight.”

The risk: “Human activity and expansion across the domain are not inevitable. The success of these endeavors is only possible if we secure the peaceful use of space, free for any who seek to expand our understanding of the greatest frontier.”

The call to arms: “It is the duty of our Service to Fight tirelessly for this mission and take up this awesome mantle the Nation has laid upon us.”

In the doctrine’s “Guiding Principles,” there is a note that “spacepower is inherently global,” and that “close collaboration and cooperation with the U.S. Government, Allies, and partners and in accordance with domestic and international law”[14] is necessary. Another comment states that as “a lean, mission-focused, digital Service, the United States Space Force values organizational agility, innovation, and boldness.”[15] It’s unclear what the digital component of the Service is supposed to indicate. There is much to be said and done about the necessary evolutions in domestic and international law when confronting this global event, though that appears beyond the scope of this doctrine.

Instead, the doctrine is concerned with establishing “spacepower as a distinct formulation of military power on par with landpower, seapower, airpower, and cyberpower.”[16] (As a sidenote, my Apple-run Pages word processor capitalized it as “AirPower,” leading me to wonder what Apple might have in the works for this emerging battleground … though that autocorrect likely seems in relation to their unreleased wireless charging mat.)

Chapter 1 of the doctrine “defines the space domain and describes the attributes of orbital flight.” These attributes are used “for exploration, communications, remote sensing, and science.” Chapter 2 introduces “national spacepower as the totality of a nation’s use of space capabilities in pursuit of national prosperity and security.” Here, “space is simultaneously a source and conduit through which a nation can generate and apply diplomatic, informational, military and economic power.” This seems to play up the first mover advantage as a source of leverage for determining the new boundaries of law and regulation as applied to outer space. Space becomes utilized as a new medium for extending national interests, and many similar tropes from Cold War era tactics seem likely to extend from this. Chapter 3 goes on to define military spacepower, which is “a unique form of military power, military spacepower leverages space capabilities to accomplish military objectives in support of national policy and strategy.

Chapter 4 describes the goals of military space forces, as those which “conduct prompt and sustained space operations, accomplishing three Cornerstone Responsibilities—Preserve Freedom of Action in the space domain, Enable Joint Lethality and Effectiveness, and Provide Independent Options to U.S. national leadership capable of achieving national objectives.” To accomplish these Cornerstone Responsibilities, “military space forces must be organized, trained, and equipped to perform five Core Competencies: Space Security; Combat Power Projection, Space Mobility and Logistics; Information Mobility; and Space Domain Awareness (SDA).” As the Cornerstone Responsibilities are fed by the five Core Competencies, these competencies “require specialization in the spacepower disciplines of Orbital Warfare, Space Electromagnetic Warfare, Space Battle Management, Space Access and Sustainment, Military Intelligence, Cyber Operations, and Engineering/Acquisitions.”

Chapter 5 concludes with the personnel required to make military spacepower possible: “Spacepower requires explorers, diplomats, entrepreneurs, scientists, developers, and warfighters. Military space forces—protectors of America’s space interests—are first and foremost warfighters who protect, defend, and project U.S. spacepower. These professionals must simultaneously commit themselves to two demanding professions: war fighting and the mastery of space. This duality blends science and art and forms the core of the purpose, identity, and culture of military space forces.”

As this is said to be an evolving doctrine, one can only hope that these stated core tenets of “war fighting and the mastery of space” are not the USSF’s guiding principles for long.[17] As it stands, this doctrine is a clear indication that the USSF views space through the lens of Star Wars. Much of the doctrine’s logic here is reflected in Eyal Weizman’s The Least of All Possible Evils: A Short History of Humanitarian Violence, which argues that “the moderation of violence is part of the very logic of violence,” where “Humanitarianism, human rights and international humanitarian law, when abused by state, supra-state and military action, have become the crucial means by which the economy of violence is calculated and managed.”[18] Of course, this Space Force doctrine makes no mention of human rights or international humanitarian law, and is supposed to assuage the American people that their interests in outer space (and on planet) will be protected by (space) force. The calculus of lesser evil is accomplished by pulling the favor of our populace that our space force will be the lesser evil than their space force. Of course, I imagine many people are thrilled by the prospect of a US Space Force that holds dominion over this final frontier, and have few reservations towards the implications that a fully militarized outer space entails.

Weizman continues, stating that in “contemporary war, the principle of proportionality has become the main translator of the relation between violence, law, and its political meaning.”[19] Proportionality here can be tied to previous doctrines like Mutually Assured Destruction, where being the first mover in space warfare guarantees a degree of advantage when negotiating the terms of law and policy to follow, while also claiming that any competing powers are doing the same thing, and thus we must respond in kind. Weizman says that the “communicative dimension of military threats can function only if gaps are maintained between the possible destruction that an army is able to inflict and the actual destruction that it does inflict.”[20] This doctrine is a blueprint for that possible destruction, and as it gets sent around to world leaders, they will certainly prepare their own arsenals accordingly, bringing about that “actual destruction.”

The principle of proportionality—first formally codified in 1977 in Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions—demands a calculating apparatus, one capable of gross misuse as “the principle of proportionality provides no scale, no formulas and numerical thresholds.”[21] It instead “demands assessment on a case-by-case basis, within parameters that are always relative, situational and immanent.”[22] This resembles a computational logic, in that by “opening a field of equivalence, in which different forms of potential and actual violence, risk, and damage become exchangeable, proportionality approximates an algorithmic logic of computation—although, still, in practice, it is rarely computed.”[23] This type of computation is quite valuable to and currently employed at large by security apparatuses, as it provides an efficient way of sorting through vast sets of strategic decisionmaking events (yes/no kill decisions, preemptive strike probabilities, weapon and energy expenditures compared with predicted benefits etc.) while ‘learning’ from its past mistakes (the deaths of innocent people, misrecognized by the algorithm). Given that much of our military technology today is automated—seen through the like of drone strikes, target assessments via facial recognition or by triangulating incoming/outgoing data profiles—one must anticipate that this automation will only increase exponentially when used by military space forces. Maybe this is the “digital Service” they referenced above.