The US Space Army: From Dream to Reality

Mohammad Reza Mohammadi
December 2018

The United States’ new defense system, which is known as the “space defense,” was introduced following the Cold War, especially after intensification of space rivalries between the former Soviet Union and the United States. Nonetheless, during past years and due to technological advances, the United States has made new efforts to realize this system. The question is how possible is the realization of this defense mechanism and why the United States is trying to achieve this super-modern military system?
Since Donald Trump became the US president, the government of the United States has paid special attention to launching its so-called “space army.” Of course the idea underlying this defense mechanism dates back to the 1960s. At that time, this idea looked like a dream, but it seems that during recent years, its realization has become more probable. In simple terms, this idea foresees deployment of missiles at space stations to hit threats outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
The US Vice President Mike Pence said in a speech at the Pentagon that it is time to realize the space force of the United States. He added that Washington would soon take necessary measures to give recommendations to concerned bodies to build the country’s space force by 2020. As reported by spacenews.com, the United States’ early space force in 2017 consisted of 2,220 active soldiers as well as veterans and civilians specializing in aerospace science, with its headquarters being in Redstone, Alabama. The goal of this military force, in the first place, is to boost the country’s space defense capability and fight international threats posed to the United States.
The important point about this “space defense” force is that there is a long way before its engineering and design challenges are overcome and it is made operational. Secondly, even after the design stage, such a system would entail a hefty cost, which is not likely to be given to the US Department of Defense in the short term. Referring to rivalries over weapons between the United States and its military and political rivals, Trump said on December 3 that he aimed to stop those rivalries. However, critics say due to its excessive cost, there is no urgency to form a space force.
Not only there is no clear information about how this project is going to be implemented in scientific and theoretical terms, there is also no information on its final cost. Apart from that, it is not even clear whether such a space army is really needed and there is much controversy about it. Its proponents argue that the balance in space power has been tilting toward Russia and China during the past decade, and in order to restore space supremacy that it had following the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States must take a revolutionary step in this regard, including by introducing its space army.
According to spacenews.com, the final structure of this space force is not determined yet, but American politicians are trying through heavy propaganda to use this ambiguous project, which may not be practical in the near future, to threaten various countries, especially Iran, Russia and China.
The Heritage Foundation has published an analysis of the fourth meeting of the U.S. National Space Council. In that report, the think tank has emphasized that due to threats posed by such missile powers as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, the United States needs a new military unit in the form of the space army. In the fourth meeting of that council, Mike Pence offered six recommendations for the formation of this force, which included:
1.Create a new, unified U.S. Space Command to establish a chain of command for Space Force operations and determine the doctrine, tactics and procedures for space war fighting in the 21st century;
2.Have the Secretary of Defense create a joint space development agency to cut through bureaucracy and make space technology quickly available when the Space Force needs it;
3.Work with the National Security Council to conduct a comprehensive review of the current interagency authorities to make sure war fighters can react flexibly to stop threats to security in space;
4.Direct the creation of a legislative proposal for the Space Force;
5.Address the 2020 budget, which will allow for the Space Force's creation; and
6.Strengthen the relationship between the intelligence community and the Space Force.
All these recommendations must be included in the next edition of the United States’ War Powers Act.
Many experts believe that such a system will not be very effective for destroying medium-range missiles. The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies released a report on the space technology of the US army for fending off ballistic missiles. It has noted that a space identification and interception system, which is to intercept ballistic missiles using small missiles with high kinetic energy, is now on the agenda of the US army to intercept missiles fired by Russia, China and Iran.
It is clear that there is still a long way before the space defense system, which has been pursued by American officials for years and has been a focus of their propaganda, becomes operational. Apart from scientific issues and many ambiguities about the mechanism of this system and its operational challenges, building it would entail hefty expenses, which characterize all space projects. As a result of those high expenses, such a system is very unlikely to become operational in practice and it seems that the United States is only trying to show off its space capability through extensive propaganda.
. Iran's effort to promote its relations with Pakistan and reduce the existing tensions is a telltale sign of a serious agenda on the part of Iran in this regard. On the other hand, there have been reports that the United States is making an effort to bring about an opening in India’s relations with Pakistan and has shown the green light to a gas project, which is supposed to be implemented in the coming years. Iran and India have realized that Pakistan’s economic corridor is a vital project and any activity, which may cause panic in Pakistan and halt this project, may be also ensued with an equal effort to do the same to Iran's Chabahar project. Therefore, Iran has officially invited Pakistan to become a partner to the Chabahar project. Of course, the Chabahar project was initially launched to provide Afghanistan with a path to bypass Pakistan. However, the fact that Afghans have raised no objection to Iran's offer to Pakistan shows that there is an unwritten agreement among all actors to give a share of the project to Pakistan. In doing this, they are trying to reduce tensions in relations and diminish Islamabad’s dissatisfaction with the Chabahar project to a minimum by showing that Chabahar is not a dangerous rival for the Gwadar project.