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20 March 2023

Recommended Innovation Articles (and Commentary) 18: ‘Toward a Theory of Space Power: Selected Essays’ by the National Defense University Press [no paywall]

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Original post can be found here:

First, the good news- this collection of essays is essentially a short book and is available to download at NDU’s website with no paywall. In this series, I try hard to mix things up so every few articles, readers can download PDFs directly without library access or paywalls, which is a great thing about the U.S. Department of Defense and their PME programs with publishing arms. NDU puts out fantastic content in journals, monographs, and in special essay collections such as this one done back in 2011. ‘Toward a Theory of Spacepower’ was edited by Charles Lutes and Peter Hays, and I am using it for my own research on the space domain and space warfare. Get it here:

This collection of essays is great for learning about space warfare, space strategy, and exploring how the space domain is going to be an increasingly significant aspect of all future conflicts and political activities for the entire planet. However, this commentary blog will focus in on just one of the essays. I would like to direct your attention to Chapter 9, ‘History of Civil Space Activity and Spacepower”, by Roger D. Launius, pp. 179–214. The other chapters are great too- but this commentary is specifically chapter 9. Launius’ chapter provides some important milestones and indicators on what is currently a very powerful and deeply complex question within the Space Defense Community writ large- “what is a Space Organization’s culture?”

The land, air, and sea components have centuries of history and multiple wars and battles to enable them to offer quite robust answers to this question. Despite USSOCOM being a relatively new organization, they too have forged strong pathways with “The SOF Truths” and multiple framings of the special operations culture. But, space is “new” and even with society now entering a new phase or “Space Age” of increased exploration, commercialization, militarization, and even tourism of space, the space military culture remains ill-defined. Note, there are several deep studies into DoD and military service culture, with perhaps the most famous being RAND’s 1989 special book project, ‘The Masks of War’ written by Carl Builder. Builder expertly paint the culture, organizational form, and the historically shaped belief systems of the Army, Air Force, and Navy. If you are familiar with the Builder book, Launius offers some tantalizing clues on what could be the deep cultural roots of space guardians and the space security community.

Launius provides a useful history of the U.S. space program in his chapter for NDU, and also drops some historical hints at what might be deep cultural or institutional tensions that could represent deep cultural roots for the space security organization. Many of these remain largely unexplored, or clouded by limited discussions and inter-service in-fighting over cultural and institutional matters (often a repeating pattern when older services give birth to new ones, or a service must alter itself to address a new domain or revolutionary technology).

Did you know that RAND did a less promoted sequel to this in 2019, called ‘Movement and Maneuver’ where they retread Builder’s original studies of the Army, Air Force, and Navy with 30 years past the Goldwater Nichols Act that created SOCOM and drove the DoD to integrate jointly in entirely novel ways? That 2019 RAND report is located here, but even this one does NOT have any studies of USCYBERCOM or USSPACECOM, or the U.S. Space Force for that matter. So, one must hunt around in the research to try to cover those gaps. Launius is one of the primary sources I intend to use for just those sorts of endeavors. Let’s get back to Chapter 9…

Okay, back to this NDU chapter. On p. 180, Launius explains how the Eisenhower administration split space development into two groups. One would be the civilian arm and exclusively approach human space exploration (to later include landing on the moon) that would be a sanctuary from armed operations. The other group would secure space from enemy threats such as the Soviet Union and the ever-escalating nuclear arms race.

Early space exploration was funded through a combination of fear of Communism “winning” against western liberal democracies and capitalism, but also in a justification that space was a new “manifest destiny” for the species (led by America). The space budget would oscillate over decades due to many domestic and foreign policy concerns, such as the Vietnam War, the post-Apollo movement to fund the Space Shuttle program, and later frustrations and problems with that shuttle program failing to deliver on all promises.

Dual use technology is addressed beginning on p. 189, and then the author details the rise and fall of the American shuttle program. Later on p. 201, the author cites Paul Stares summarize the loss of the USAF’s X-20 and MOL programs in the 1960s as part of this tension between the space civilian arm and that of a military one. The USAF would not be able (or perhaps willing) to move space activities into a high level of funding as compared to tactical and strategic airpower, particularly with the Vietnam War escalating through the 1960s. Later, Nixon is shown to pair the space shuttle program with political reasons, again illustrating how complex the space programs are woven into our economic, political, cultural, and military history. The author returns to the bitter pill that the USAF had to swallow in the Eisenhower administration on pp. 205–206, which forms part of the chapter conclusion too. “Human space-flight has long been a province of the civil space program in the United States, but the military has always wanted to become a part of it.”

If our species is able to establish colonies on the Moon and Mars, begin to mine asteroids, explore the inner solar system and beyond in robust form beyond the last six decades, the US military will likely need to revisit this space history, and reconceptualize what the future space warfighter culture needs to become, and how we might go about shaping and influencing that. Space undoubtably requires security, whether autonomous robots, human-machine teams, or human groups in hostile, alien locations. While the first humans to reach many new locations will be civilian, likely scientific, those that follow will be pursuing tourism, commercial activities, and other human interests. Military security will become an integrated part of this dynamic, requiring significant discussion now from this generation and the next.

The rest of this NDU collection of essays is valuable for those attempting to understand space strategy, the space domain, and integrated warfighting in a multi-domain future conflict context. If you like learning about what I am researching or sharing with others, follow me on Medium and subscribe to the email option so each time one of these hits the press, you get notified first. Follow me on Twitter if you want to see screen shots and photos of what I am reading or researching currently, along with academic commentary and more. I am on LinkedIn where I add more content related to strategy, war philosophy, defense culture, and innovation/design thinking.

Thanks for reading!

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