Captain Kirk, we are here. Like millions of American children of a certain age, I grew up wanting to be Tom Corbett Space Cadet or Captain Video. Many August hours were spent launching model rockets in the backyard powered by a variety of — sometimes questionable and occasionally illegal — propellants.
Having decided, that what marginal skills I possessed in the area of aeronautics and astronautics would not propel me to the front ranks of the nation’s budding corps of astronauts, I decided to pursue an interest in the Marine Corps infantry. I did however manage to launch myself toward the final frontier in several adventures with high explosives during my career.
Nonetheless, I’ve maintained an active interest in space exploration for seven decades — and I’ve watched the evolution toward an American military space force with mixed thoughts. I’m not opposed to the concept and will defer to those experts in the field who believe that a separate space service is the most effective approach. However, I would offer some advice based on experience building military organizations from scratch for those setting the foundations.
• Don’t use existing service templates. In building the original Army Air Service, the Army made some key mistakes that slowed things down unacceptably during World War I. Because there were no American military flyers to conduct training, a wise decision was made to recruit veteran Americans who were flying as volunteers for the French in the Lafayette Escadrille. Due to idiotic medical exams administered by doctors who knew nothing of aviation physiology, 100 percent of the escadrille pilots were disqualified. When he heard about the debacle, Gen. Pershing issued waivers and the veteran pilots began training American students.
• Stick to the mission. Presumably, the space force will have two key missions. The first, protecting our nation’s military and civilian space assets from hostile military interference. The second would be to destroy an enemy’s space capabilities in any future conflict situation. That is easy to say, but hard to do. That is where congressional oversight comes in.
If the new service begins to deviate from those core missions, it should be forced to justify the resources it is asking for to take on the new task. For example, how the Army got into the intercontinental ballistic missile business in the 1950s remains an ongoing mystery to me. In addition, the military space arm should leave cosmic exploration to the civilians. The combination of NASA and private enterprise currently seems to be paying off. Should the need arise to send in space marines to kick the Chinese or the Klingons off the moon, we can cross that bridge when we come to it.
• Keep it small and simple. Space operations, although ultimately technologically complex, are not people-intense. Where possible, artificial intelligence (AI) should be used for routine staff functions that do not need human interaction. These include pay functions, many logistics tasks and even food service operations. There is a tendency in many existing military organizations to equate size with power. This was particularly true during the past two centuries. Large staffs, lots of aides, and nifty buildings have traditionally added to a service’s prestige and increases to the impression of an organization’s public sense of self-worth.
Nothing says military glory more than a nifty band, but we need to remember, “in space, no one can hear you toot.” The new space force has the opportunity to help change that mimicking the Marine Corps in emphasizing an ability to justify the need for any new missions undertaken. Developing a Walmart-like attention to the bottom line, would greatly benefit the new organization. Justifiable or not, the Air Force’s reputation for building the golf course on a new base before the runway has preceded it for decades.
Outsource professional education functions where possible. Professional military education is an important part of the modern profession of arms, but it can be enormously expensive in terms of personnel investment. We don’t need a “Starfleet Academy.” We should build around an existing institution such as the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to create and officer cadet program. As officers move along in career progression, graduate programs at the command and staff and war college levels can be developed.
Space is a field where civilian-military interface is critical, and having entry-level cadets develop early personnel relationships with potential civilian pioneers in the space field would be very useful.
OK: I’m ready. “Scotty, beam me up.”
• Gary Anderson was the chief of staff of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab.
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