Perhaps the most significant reason to resist handing the space mission to the U.S. Navy is because it would derail the progress of the space navy itself. Almost immediately after establishment, the U.S. Space Corps will need to develop its own doctrine. Freed from Air Force interference, it is highly probable that the rich intellectual heritage of the Navy and its myriad benefits to military space will be quickly recognized by the Corps. The author believes the new service will begin the transition into America’s newest naval culture very shortly after independence. Whether the Corps becomes the U.S. Space Guard in 2020 or Starfleet in 2119 is of relatively little consequence. The space culture will be started on the proper path to the space navy.
But that path does not intersect with the U.S. Navy! Tying the space culture to terrestrial sea operations will be every bit as regressive as keeping it tied to terrestrial air operations, regardless if the two cultures are inspired by the same books. Hipple is wrong here. The choice confronting the United States over military space is not between an Air Force culture with an “outdated altitude-based perspective” that owns space out of “short-term institutional convenience” or a Navy that has a monopoly on “the challenges of maneuvering a vessel in three dimensions.” The professional military space cadre exists today, they are eminently capable of defending America’s space interests, and they do not need to belong to the U.S. Navy to embrace the naval culture America needs to succeed in space.
The creation of the U.S. Space Corps should not be seen as a failure on the part of the Air Force. As General Hyten has said, space development to date has been an airman’s story. However, Hipple is right in diagnosis, the Air Force does not have the mentality or expertise to conduct space operations as necessity and opportunity drives them to become increasingly analogous to naval operations. Airmen themselves have noticed this and are preparing to shift the space culture to become more like the naval culture Hipple thinks is necessary. With the space culture’s destiny in its own hands as the U.S. Space Corps, it will be able to secure its transition into a naval service at the proper time without interference from the Air Force or the Navy.
When America deploys a space navy that would make Gene Roddenberry or Robert Heinlein proud, the officers of those spaceships will be likely to hold the rank of ensign, commander and admiral. They will probably read Alfred Thayer Mahan and C.S. Forester, but they will certainly be the proud children of airmen.
Brent Ziarnick is an assistant professor of National Security Studies at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. He is a member of the U.S. Naval Institute, a fellow of the British Interplanetary Society, and is intensely proud of his United States Air Force commission—but hopes to retire in a Space Corps uniform.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Air Force, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.