The Space Commission Reports

March 1, 2001

The recommendations of a blue-ribbon panel on military space, if implemented, could cause the Air Force to revisit its initiative to merge air and space operations into a seamless aerospace continuum, set the stage for creation of a “Space Corps” within the Air Force in this decade, and possibly lead to the formation of an independent space service in the not-too-distant future.

Some of the findings of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, made public in early January, found immediate favor in military and intelligence communities. There was applause for the panel’s highlighting of the vital economic and military importance of space activities to the nation and for its call for Presidential attention to military, civil, and intelligence space functions.

In the near term, moreover, the suggestions would give the Air Force greater authority over space activities. Senior Air Force officials cheered the suggestion that the Air Force be made executive agent for military space, a status which would give it oversight of other services’ space efforts and recognize its standing as supplier of more than 90 percent of the funds and personnel to US military space activities.

Many of the proposed organizational and structural changes, however, raised eyebrows in the space community. Some of the suggested initiatives could redistribute responsibility for space endeavors in ways such that some aspects of US military power could be degraded without the space capabilities necessarily being strengthened.

Rumsfeld’s Weight

Over the past decade, military space has generated a stream of reports from blue-ribbon panels. However, the recommendations of this one could carry considerable weight because its chairman, Donald H. Rumsfeld, has become Secretary of Defense. (For other commissioners, see box on p. 34.) Rumsfeld resigned as chairman of the panel when President Bush tapped him to head the Pentagon, a scant two weeks before the commission published its final report. However, the report is said to reflect much of Rumsfeld’s thinking on space organization issues and could well serve as a blueprint for reorganization of military space.

The commission called on the National Security Council to create a focal point for space. It also recommended setting up a Presidential Space Advisory Group to keep the chief executive well informed on space and assure that the field remains a high-profile national priority. The commission suggested a number of measures designed to foster cooperation between intelligence and military agencies and NASA. It advised a more active role for government in investing in space technologies, to advance US security and economic interests.

In the area of bureaucratic structure, the commissioners called for creating a new job at the Pentagon: undersecretary of defense for space, intelligence, and information. This individual would be expected to serve as a top Pentagon advocate for space systems and organization and assure that space gets a high priority in annual funding decisions.

Today, the four-star officer who serves as commander in chief of multiservice US Space Command also serves as commander of Air Force Space Command. That practice should cease, said commissioners, who advised that both jobs require the attention of a full-time leader. Moreover, if the panelists had their way, the Pentagon would be able to select the commander of US Space Command from any of the four services (not just the Air Force) and from among any four-star officer possessing “an understanding of combat and space” (not necessarily a rated flier).

Further, said the commission, the US armed services need to dispense with the practice of assigning only combat “operators” to top space posts. “Military leaders with little or no previous experience or expertise in space technology or operations often lead space organizations,” said the report.

It noted, “A review by the commission of over 150 personnel currently serving in key operational space leadership positions showed that fewer than 20 percent of the flag officers in key space jobs come from space career backgrounds. The remaining officers, drawn from pilot, air defense artillery, and intercontinental ballistic missile career fields, on average had spent eight percent, or 2.5 years, of their careers in space or space-related positions.”

Under the panel’s plan, the US would restate the charter of the Air Force to give it formal responsibility to organize, train, and equip “for prompt and sustained offensive and defensive air and space operations.” This change to Title 10 provisions would have to be approved by Congress, but such a mandate from Capitol Hill to “plan, program, and budget for space missions … should motivate the Air Force to give space activities higher priority,” the commission asserted.

Air Force field commands would be restructured to “more effectively” pursue the space mission.

Making the Air Force “executive agent” for space, would require it to assume responsibility for “developing, defending, and submitting a joint ‘Space Program Plan’ to the Office of the Secretary of Defense,” the panel explained. The other services would continue to develop–and fund–space programs meeting their “unique requirements,” but these would have to be submitted to USAF, and meet with the approval of USAF’s Space Acquisition Executive.

This SAE would be the undersecretary of the Air Force, who would also absorb the role of director of the National Reconnaissance Office, the commission proposed. The undersecretary would oversee and harmonize the space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance functions of both agencies, as well as their space system procurement efforts.

Space “Culture”

This arrangement would “create a single chain of authority” for space within USAF, the commission argued. It would also give the service “a clear opportunity to create a space-oriented culture” composed of “military professionals who could directly influence the development of systems and doctrine for use in space operations.”

The commissioners don’t think this is happening. “The Department of Defense is not yet on course to develop the space cadre the nation needs,” said the panel’s report. “The department must create a stronger military space culture, through focused career development, education, and training, within which the space leaders for the future can be developed. This has an impact on each of the services but is most critical within the Air Force.”

The nation’s vital interests depend on creating such a cadre of space professionals, the commissioners said. The pace of technological change is so great, they asserted, that there must be a core group able to make “a concentrated effort to deter and defend” against attacks on US space and information infrastructure. “Such efforts are not being pursued with the vision and attention needed,” the panelists said.

Both the Pentagon and the CIA should be working on “revolutionary” means of collecting information from orbit, the panelists found, suggesting that a joint, space-specific “research, development, and demonstration organization” be created with “competitive centers of innovation” to spur such breakthroughs.

This organization-a joint venture between the Pentagon and CIA-would be called the Strategic Reconnaissance Office. It would focus on “the unique, one- or two-of-a-kind systems needed to address an urgent national requirement,” the commission said. It suggested an office “small in size,” staffed by motivated people, and having the authority to swiftly move a project from the drawing board to the launchpad.

The approach suggests a reprise of the “Skunkworks” approach, which Lockheed pioneered for development of secretive, high-technology aircraft such as the U-2, SR-71, and F-117. The outfit would be free to consider nonspace alternatives to such pressing technical problems.

At the same time, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency should work on demonstrating military-specific “innovative space technologies.”

Finally, the panel advised creating a Major Force Program for space-the Pentagon’s 12th. Such a status was conferred on the program of US Special Operations Command in the late 1980s. The intent would be to highlight and lend visibility to space missions and requirements.

Insufficient Attention

The commission was launched by members of Congress who feel the Air Force is not paying sufficient attention to space, nor allocating enough resources to pursue a suitably strong military space presence. Some members, particularly Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.), consistently charged the Air Force with shortchanging space to keep money flowing to aircraft programs.

The commission seemed to agree with this assessment.

“Few witnesses before the commission expressed confidence that the current Air Force organization is suited to the conduct of these [space] missions,” said the report. “Nor was there confidence that the Air Force will fully address the requirement to provide space capabilities for the other services. Many believe the Air Force treats space solely as a supporting capability that enhances the primary mission of the Air Force to conduct offensive and defensive air operations. Despite official doctrine that calls for the integration of space and air capabilities, the Air Force does not treat the two equally. As with air operations, the Air Force must take steps to create a culture within the service dedicated to developing new space system concepts, doctrine, and operational capabilities.”

This month, the Air Force will provide an official response to the commission’s recommendations.

Setting the stage for their specific recommendations, the commission members unanimously agreed that space capabilities should be pursued peacefully and in support of both economic and security ends, but they also stipulated that the US should obtain the means to defend its considerable investments in space and to prevent enemies from using space against the United States.

“The pursuits of US national interests in space require leadership by the President” and his senior officials, the panelists asserted. They recommended that space-specific entities be created on the National Security Council and that the United States pursue cross-agency initiatives to use space to speed the transformation of US military forces.

The group also suggested the US help create a set of international regulations governing space that help the domestic aerospace industry and ensure US security. Additionally, the panelists called for greater US government investment in “leading edge technologies” applicable to space, to ensure US leadership in the field, and finally for the government to establish and maintain a “trained cadre of military and civilian space professionals.”

To ensure competitiveness and “mastery” of space operations, the panel recommended that government invest in systems such that it keeps “one generation ahead” of what any other nation possesses in space technology and encourage the civil sector to do the same.

Defense of space assets is vital because of American dependence on them for military and economic security and because that dependence has made US space assets “potentially attractive targets,” the commission found. Not only foreign nations but “nonstate entities” are obtaining space capabilities ranging from intelligence and surveillance to communication, it added.

To avoid the danger of what it termed a “space Pearl Harbor”–that is, a crippling surprise attack on US space assets by an aggressor–the US must move more “seriously” to undertake defenses of its satellites, uplinks, downlinks, and launch facilities.

“The nation’s leaders must assure that the vulnerability of the United States is reduced and that the consequences of a surprise attack on US space assets are limited in their effects,” said the commission report.

The commission was specifically charged by Congress to examine the feasibility or advisability of creating a new Space Service separate from and independent of the Air Force. While it found that a new Space Department would “provide strong advocacy” for space and essentially serve as one-stop shopping for space activities, the commission concluded that now is not the proper time for such a move.

“The disadvantages … outweigh the advantages,” the commission said. Among the negatives, it said, was the fact that “there is not yet a critical mass of qualified personnel, budget, requirements, or missions sufficient to establish a new department.” However, it also said nothing should be done that might “preclude eventual evolution toward a Space Department, if that proves desirable.”

More likely and “appropriate,” the panel said, would be the creation of a Space Corps within the Air Force, along the lines of the Army Air Forces during World War II. It could use existing Air Force space installations and infrastructure and take over the acquisition and operation of space systems.

Continuing Competition

Commissioners said the drawback of that approach is that the existence of a Space Corps within USAF “would not eliminate the competition for resources between air and space platforms that exists within the Air Force today. Nor would it … alleviate the concerns of other services and agencies over Air Force space allocations.”

Retired Adm. David Jeremiah, one of the commissioners, spoke with Washington reporters about this problem. He said the panel looked at creating a new service for space and decided “it is too early in terms of the overhead associated” with such a move.

“Call it tooth-to-tail ratio,” said Jeremiah. “To create a department at this stage of the game is dysfunctional.”

The commission said a Space Corps might be a suitable development in the “mid-term.” Jeremiah explained that the panel specifically tried to avoid setting a timetable for such an organization to be created but generally felt it “could be six years … [to] 10 years.”

He added, “What we are suggesting is that there is a continuum from executive agent through Space Department and that circumstances will draw the decision as to whether you should do that [go all the way to a new department] or not.” If the Air Force truly becomes “a space and air force, as opposed to an aerospace force,” said Jeremiah, then “why would you create a Space Department?”

Jeremiah also said the panel liked the model of the “nuclear Navy” as a template for how the Air Force might organize its space operations.

The commission also suggested Congress itself should restructure its committees overseeing space. They are numerous, each with its own agenda, leading to a bewildering array of conflicting oversight requirements.

Jeremiah was blunt about the need for Congressional streamlining. “We are moderately appalled by the fact that there are on some issues anywhere from six to 18 committees that have to vote on a matter before it can be consummated,” he said.

The panelists said they were recommending the Title 10 changes and making USAF the executive agent for space because “US interests in space may well ultimately call for the creation of a Space Corps or Space Department.” The changes “lay the foundation for such future steps.” Jeremiah reported that some members of Congress briefed on the report were surprised by the Title 10 recommendations; many were under the impression that the Air Force already possessed this authority.

Leap of Logic

Once the USAF realignment is complete, “a logical step toward a Space Department could be to transition from the new Air Force Space Command to a Space Corps within the Air Force,” the commission said.

The commissioners said they could foresee the day when the commander of Air Force Space Command becomes head of Space Corps and would “join the deliberations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when space-related issues are on the agenda.” They also saw a transition directly to a Space Department “if future conditions support that step more quickly than appears likely from the commission’s vantage point today.”

The commission made no suggestions per se about weaponizing space, Jeremiah noted, saying that introducing weapons in space would have to be paced by the actions of other nations.

“It depends upon what you see and how aggressive people are,” he said. “It’s a circumstance-driven question.” The commission strongly advised that the US “stay ahead of the problem to be sure we are following the technology advances around the world,” Jeremiah said.

The Space Commission issued its report only a few days before F. Whitten Peters left his job as Secretary of the Air Force. Peters’s name will not be on the official response to the commission’s report; that will be prepared mostly by the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Michael E. Ryan. However, Peters offered some insights into how the commission’s proposed changes would affect the Air Force.

“We agree, first of all, that the Air Force is the proper steward for space,” Peters told defense reporters in Washington. “Second, we agree that some kind of a national structure to integrate space at the National Security Council or at the Presidential level is really important.”

Peters was less enthusiastic about the prospect for a Space Corps, let alone the formation of a new Space Force.

“I have spent three years with General Ryan trying to integrate space into what we do,” Peters said. “We think that’s where the [greatest] bang for the buck is.” By fusing space and airborne sensors, he explained, the Air Force has made huge strides in tackling one of its toughest challenges-finding and targeting relocatable and mobile targets.

Space is important “because it is a critical enabler,” Peters asserted, and he agreed with the commission that steps should be taken to protect US assets in space.

Distant Battles

However, he read the commission’s emphasis on a new Space Corps or Space Force as deriving from a conviction that there will be violent clashes in space. “My own view,” said Peters, “is that is so far off we should not start preparing for it today.”

The Air Force is assiduously working to upgrade or recapitalize its space systems as enablers of terrestrial and air-breathing systems, and “in my own view, that’s where I would put the emphasis and the money today.”

Ryan, for his part, is firmly on record as saying that the creation of a separate Space Force would divert scarce financial resources from critical items to non-value-added functions, such as setting up new headquarters, personnel systems, and bureaucracy. He has campaigned to eliminate stovepipes that unnecessarily route space programs through one organization and aircraft that collect intelligence or conduct reconnaissance through another.

Peters found little to like in making the undersecretary of the Air Force the space czar for the service and the NRO.

“The real problem inside DoD today is too many places of direction and too few funding pots,” he asserted. The commission “may have compounded these problems by creating-potentially-two different sources of defense acquisition executive.” One of these is the new undersecretary of defense for space, intelligence, and information, the other being the existing undersecretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics.

“One for space and one for everything else,” he observed. “I don’t think that is an ideal structure.”

Having served as undersecretary of the Air Force-the job entails supervising personnel issues such as recruiting, health care, retention, and many other areas-Peters said enlarging the job to encompass space activities would turn it into something far too big for one person. “I will tell you: That is a killing workload,” he said.

Jeremiah said the commissioners–with their cumulative experience in military space issues–decided that the Air Force undersecretary is indeed the best place to focus the service’s attention on space. The post once held the space portfolio, but space was later shifted to an assistant secretary-level job.

The person in the reorganized job will have “visibility over virtually all of the space program of the United States,” as well as “over a large portion of the air-breathing reconnaissance assets,” Jeremiah said, well able to conduct “trade-offs” between the two.

Giving military space a Major Force Program “doesn’t solve the budget problem,” Peters said. “It just makes the dollars more visible. … It doesn’t guarantee more money.” He noted that making Special Operations Command an MFP “has not produced a lot more money for SOCOM.”

The commission said it found no comprehensive, overarching plan to “build up to the investments needed to modernize” space capabilities. It suggested that a level of effort similar to the 1960s push to build up strategic missiles–which “averaged some 10 percent of the Department’s budget annually”–is needed in space.

Specifically, it suggested a “more robust science and technology program” that would put the spurs to “developing and deploying space-based radar, space-based laser, hyper-spectral sensors, and reusable launch vehicle technology.”

At the same time, funding and initiative are needed to improve situational awareness and attack warning capabilities, enhanced measures to protect US satellites, “prevention and negation systems” and quick-response, long-range power-projection systems, such as hypersonic or suborbital attack craft.

Underlying all these initiatives would be a push to modernize launch capabilities. “In space launch, we are losing ground and losing ground rapidly,” Jeremiah observed.

In summing up the commission’s findings, Jeremiah said, “History tells us that every media–air, land, and sea–has seen conflict over time, as we use it. Experience suggests that space will be no different. … Other people are going to be attracted by our vulnerabilities. … We have to develop the means to deter and defend our assets in space and on the ground against that kind of hostile action.”

He added that, as the commission perceived it, “The US government and particularly the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community are not very well arranged or focused to meet the national security space needs of the 21st century.”

Fogleman: Doing Nothing Is Not an Option

The Air Force needn’t abandon its concept of “aerospace integration.” It is a good idea to merge space capabilities into all aspects of combat. However, USAF is failing to cultivate people who focus solely on space and give it the attention it deserves.

Such is the view of retired Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, a former Air Force Chief of Staff and member of the Space Commission.

The commission members concluded that the Air Force, in its pursuit of aerospace integration, was “downplaying the uniqueness of the space dimension,” Fogleman said.

Speaking at a Capitol Hill symposium explaining the commission’s thinking, findings, and recommendations, Fogleman said the service has failed to recognize that there are fundamental differences between space operations and air operations and that the US needs a dedicated, career cadre of experts to advocate space superiority and focus on technologies and infrastructure necessary to achieve it.

“In the end … we found … that this cadre was not being developed, not being nurtured, not being given the right kind of attention,” he reported.

Fogleman said he saw striking parallels between the Army’s reluctance in the 1920s to recognize the uniqueness of air operations and airpower as a facet of warfare and the actions of today’s Air Force with respect to space power.

Sufficiently Distinct

Space operations are sufficiently distinct from air operations “that we need to provide more focus,” said Fogleman. He added, “That is our belief.”

Fogleman went on, “I can show you testimony from Army officers who were dead set against an independent Air Force, who did not understand that flying airplanes was enough different that you had to have your own organization to develop that and go do it.”

There was complete agreement among the commissioners that “we are going to see conflict in space,” Fogleman noted. “Anybody who thinks we aren’t has got his head in the sand.” The US dependence on space is a “glaring vulnerability,” he said. The nation hasn’t done enough to prepare against an attack on US space assets, the commission decided.

The commission liked the idea of developing, within USAF, a Space Corps, Fogleman said. He noted that it would be modeled on the way in which the Army Air Forces was formed and eventually led to the Air Force itself.

The commission looked at several other models for splitting off a space organization-including naval carrier aviation, the nuclear navy, and the Marine Corps. However, it found the Army Air Forces example most to its liking.

The time is “not right” for a Marine Corps-style organization, with a Space Corps commandant who would sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Fogleman said.

However, he rejected the notion that creating a new organization would lead to stovepipes and artificial barriers between space-generated information and people in the armed forces who need to use it.

“We don’t see that as necessarily creating seams,” Fogleman asserted.

The commission preferred that the Space Corps be an “evolution” of space called out as a Major Force Program, and Fogleman said he and his fellow commissioners hoped that would happen. Whether creation of Special Operations Command as such an MFP was a success “is almost immaterial,” Fogleman charged.

“The existence of that MFP gave visibility to special operations programs and for the services that have been criticized for not supporting special operations, it took away that criticism. At long last, everybody could see what was happening. I think the same thing will happen with an MFP [for space].”

However, the commission believed there would be a sudden move toward a Space Force if there was a “catastrophic event, … a potential Pearl Harbor in space,” observed Fogleman. There would be immediate finger-pointing and a furious public, demanding to know, “Why did we not prevent this? Where did the failure occur?…. Why were you not prepared for that? Why were weapons not developed?” Preparations should begin long before that happens, the commission warned.

“Clearly, someday in this country, we will have a Space Department, or it may be called an Aerospace Department,” Fogleman said.

The argument about the militarization of space is “moot,” he said, “because space has been militarized. The issue is, whether you weaponize space.” He noted that there is a ban on nuclear weapons tests in space, but otherwise, there is “no prohibition against weapons in space today” under any existing treaty. Moreover, he noted that a handful of nations already have the “crude” means to do great damage to a satellite constellation.

Fact of Life

“Militarization of space is a fact of life,” Fogleman asserted. He added that weapons applicable to space are further along than most suspect and predicted that directed energy weapons will be a “centerpiece” of the US military’s arsenal within 20 years.

In later discussion with reporters, he said the commission didn’t intend to “challenge the aerospace integration [concept]. … I don’t think aerospace integration and a restructured space segment of the US Air Force are mutually exclusive.”

The point of aerospace integration is to merge space capabilities into all facets of warfare and bring down barriers between space power and field commanders who need it, but Fogleman said that many of those barriers already “have been knocked down” and had to do with security classification and “nothing to do with organizational structure.” While the Air Force has not suffered much until now by putting nonspace experts in command of space organizations, this needs to change, Fogleman said.

“Within the space community, we think there really needs to be this career training/career progression. … As we start to get into the wing commander level, … increasingly, those slots are filled by space people” and not by rated officers who come from the flying business and go back to it when their tour is up.

The commission specifically avoided calling for more funding, said Fogleman, because the panel did not see money as a panacea. Commissioners opted for a restructuring as a way to deal most decisively with the pressing issues.

“Just throwing more money at a flawed organization … or management system is not going to necessarily provide success,” he asserted. Nevertheless, “it may in fact require more money,” and space may get the funds “if the right type of attention comes down” from the President and his inner circle of policy-makers, Fogleman suggested.

The commission was intent on establishing high-level, single-point oversight for space because there currently is no such office, and there must be visibility over space issues in many different disciplines.

Fogleman noted that some diplomatic initiatives that seem “harmless” could “inadvertently tie our hands.” A case in point: The recent US-Russian agreement in which both sides agree to give 24 hours’ notice of a large missile launch.

The commission’s chairman-Donald Rumsfeld-is now the Secretary of Defense, and so military space issues are fresh in his mind, said Fogleman. He added that some sort of restructuring likely will happen soon.

“If I were a betting man, I would bet you that in the [Defense Department] legislative proposal that comes to the Hill this year, this will be in there,” Fogleman said.

He added, “Doing nothing is not an option.”

Who Was Who on the Space Commission

Donald H. Rumsfeld (chairman). Secretary of Defense, also served in that position 1975-77.

Duane P. Andrews, former assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications, and intelligence.

Robert V. Davis, former deputy undersecretary of defense for space.

Gen. Howell M. Estes III, USAF (Ret.), former commander in chief of US Space Command and NORAD and commander of Air Force Space Command.

Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, USAF (Ret.), former Air Force Chief of Staff.

Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, USA (Ret.), former commander of Army Space and Strategic Defense Command.

William R. Graham, former deputy administrator of NASA.

Gen. Charles A. Horner, USAF (Ret.), former commander in chief of US Space Command and NORAD and commander of AFSPC.

Adm. David E. Jeremiah, USN (Ret.), former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Gen. Thomas S. Moorman Jr., USAF (Ret.), former Air Force vice chief of staff and former commander of AFSPC.

Douglas H. Necessary, former staff member to the House Armed Services Committee.

Gen. Glenn K. Otis, USA (Ret.), former commander of US Army Training and Doctrine Command.

Malcolm Wallop, former Republican Senator from Wyoming.