The Integration of Air and Space

July 1, 2000

The Air Force has declared that air and space form a single “seamless operational medium” for the exercise of military power, and it will refocus its training and operating concepts to reflect that view, according to a new white paper on aerospace integration.

This new emphasis on integration, made explicit in the paper, released May 9, is expected to lead to a more efficient force dedicated to mastery of aerospace power. The expectation is that it will focus not on individual combat platforms but rather on delivering desired effects to combat commanders.

Titled “The Aerospace Force: Defending America in the 21st Century,” the paper is addressed to serving USAF members. It is also clearly intended to answer outsiders who have been clamoring for a separate space service and critics who feel the Air Force has not been an aggressive steward and proponent of space systems.

The paper puts doctrine behind a functional move that has been discussed and been in progress for several years.

The document notes that USAF today is responsible for providing most of the air and space systems used by the American military and also controls almost 90 percent of Defense Department space-related resources, including personnel, infrastructure, budget, or platforms. Whereas the other services focus on surface combat, the Air Force uniquely is charged with planning revolutionary developments in aerospace.

The paper forecasts that the nation’s “reliance on space-based capabilities” will grow, and this will create “an economic and military center of gravity–a vulnerability.” When this happens, it will be the Air Force’s job to ensure continued access to space systems.

Only Full-Spectrum Force

The paper claimed, “As more spacefaring countries emerge and technology advances, the potential for threats from and in space will increase. Space control will become a required capability of our Air Force.” The Air Force is the only service now equipped to provide a full spectrum of capabilities in aerospace.

The move to an integrated air and space capability within USAF has been under way since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, said the white paper. As space systems have been made more transparent, more of the intelligence and information collected by national means is making its way to the hands of field commanders, demonstrating the merging of the air and space mediums.

The attributes of aerospace power are speed, range, perspective, precision, and three-dimensional maneuver, USAF said. The integration of air and space assets will allow attacks on concealed or mobile targets “with breathtaking speed.” The long range of aircraft–or vehicles operating from space–gives USAF global range. The “high ground” will give US commanders the ability to view the enemy’s actions “in context” and at extended distances.

The availability of highly accurate space-based navigation and timing systems has already brought about a quantum leap in bombing accuracy, the white paper said, and the ability to maneuver in three dimensions makes it possible to “bypass traditional tactical and operational barriers, and even terrestrial notions of sovereignty to pursue strategic, operational, and tactical objectives.”

In the near term, according to the paper, one way USAF is planning to demonstrate its “commitment” to air and space integration is by making acquisition choices based on which systems fit into an integrated structure. In addition, it will field “Aerospace Operations Centers (AOCs) as weapon systems” and “a data fusion system,” putting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information from all sensors into a decision-quality format that “joint force aerospace component commanders” can use to plan battles and revise tactics on the fly.

USAF plans to begin cultivating aerospace leaders proficient in tapping the capabilities of aircraft and spacecraft to accomplish military objectives. The service said it wants to provide career broadening opportunities for personnel who want to cross-train in space and air systems and through development of an Air Force-wide “aerospace mind-set.”

The paper suggests that those having such experience and training in “how aerospace power contributes to mission accomplishment” will be preferred for promotion and command and that there may be organizational changes to remove distinctions between air and space operators.

Wargames and simulations will be developed to educate USAF personnel on “the use and limitations of our aerospace capabilities.” The service counted as one of its significant joint experimentation achievements in 1999 the integration of the space tasking order with the air tasking order.

“The Best Path”

USAF asserted that the “systematic combination of air and space capabilities is the best path for the Air Force to fulfill its national security obligations.”

Merging air and space systems and providing a comprehensive view of what’s going on will allow leaders to “make resource decisions based on capabilities that produce the desired military effects–regardless of where platforms fly, orbit, or reside.”

The document provides a long list of initiatives in space launch, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, lasers, and other technologies, demonstrating the Air Force’s commitment to effective management of the US military space effort. USAF plans to be “cooperatively engaged” with other services and civilian agencies in all aspects of space operations, the white paper said. USAF will work to foster “an atmosphere that supports innovation” in space and air systems, both in technology and applications.

In their foreword to the paper, Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters and Chief of Staff Gen. Michael E. Ryan note that they consider aerospace integration a “pillar” supporting the new Air Force vision, called global vigilance, reach, and power.

Ryan has said he hopes the aerospace integration initiative will not be confused with the Air Force vision, which will recast the service’s core competencies. Ryan has also said that a separate space service would not be able to push space technology any faster than it is now moving and that creating an expensive, separate service bureaucracy would rob funds from the space research initiatives already under way.

Air Force Percent

of DoD Total

Air Space
Personnel 82% 90%
Budget 73% 85%
Assets 75% 86%
Infrastructure 78% 90%

Not Enough, Says Senator Smith

Even as the Air Force seeks speedier integration of air- and space power, critics complain it is dragging its heels.

Prominent among the critics is Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In a recent speech in Washington, Smith questioned USAF’s commitment to space power and warned he is prepared to seek creation of a separate space force, if USAF doesn’t get a move on.

He charged that military interest in space begins and ends with transmittal of information for traditional operations.

“Unfortunately, … expanding and refining our ability to gather and transmit information has been the Defense Department’s principal focus in space,” claimed Smith. “The Air Force’s space budget is dedicated almost entirely to the maintenance and improvement of information systems, as a means of increasing the effectiveness of existing forces here on Earth.”

He went on, “As important as early warning, intelligence, navigation, weather, and communications systems may be, today they are basically dedicated to supporting nonspace forms of power projection. This is not space warfare. It is using space to support air, sea, and land warfare.”

USAF has concentrated its financial resources on airpower, in Smith’s view, and provided only “paltry” sums for development and production of space systems. He said he simply does not perceive any dedication to the task of building space power.

“As I look at the way it is organized, trained, and equipped,” argued Smith, “I do not see the Air Force building the material, cultural, and organizational foundations of a service dedicated to space power.”

Indeed, he continued, the Air Force in some ways is regressing. “Where are the science and technology investments and the technology demonstrations that the Air Force is currently pursuing in order to build for a future space-power projection capability?” he asked. “Where is the Air Force’s space-based missile defense development program? … Where is the Air Force’s military spaceplane program?”

No “warfighting community … that in any way rivals the parallel air and missile organizations” has emerged within the US Air Force, said Smith, who further claimed, “We will need more than a better space-power culture, and more than money, if we hope to dominate the space frontier.”

Specifically, said Smith, the United States must consider the prospect of “dramatically” changing its institutional space arrangements.

“If the Air Force cannot or will not embrace space power,” he warned, “we in Congress will have to drag them there, kicking and screaming if necessary, or perhaps establish an entirely new service. Drastic as that sounds, it is an increasingly real option that may be necessary to put this nation on a course toward space power.”

“Frankly, I am less concerned with who delivers space power than I am committed to getting it done,” he emphasized. “This view is increasingly shared by my colleagues, and frankly all this foot-dragging is making the concept of a Space Force more likely.”

There is scant evidence to support this claim. At this point, there appears to be limited support in Congress for such a drastic move. Lawmakers did, however, authorize the creation of a new blue-ribbon commission to study the issue. (See “Aerospace World: Space Commission Kicks Off” on p. 11.)

Smith warned that he will be pressing the issue for a long time.

“Maybe the Air Force will pre-empt any dramatic changes I’ve suggested by truly becoming the ‘Space and Air Force.’ ” he said, “but space dominance is simply too important to allow any bureaucracy, military department, service mafia, or parochial concern to stand in the way.”