By Michael Pearson
Creating a sixth branch of the United States military to oversee space defense — a Space Force — could spur technological innovation, but could just as likely cause disruption among organizations tasked with defending U.S. military and commercial interests in orbit, according to Margaret E. Kosal, an associate professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“Do we need to recognize the value of space as a domain crucial to U.S. national security and our economy? Absolutely,” said Kosal, a former advisor for science and technology in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “Do we need to better fund basic and applied research? Absolutely. Do we need to have more robust thinking about space as a military and commercial domain? Absolutely. Is a Space Force the best, or second- or third-best way to do that? No.”
Vice President Mike Pence announced August 9, 2018 that the United States would seek to establish a U.S. Space Force as a separate branch of the military by 2020. President Donald Trump publicly proposed such a branch in June.
Kosal, an expert in military technology, said it is unclear what a Space Force would do beyond the existing roles handled by other military organizations. She said it also could be a destabilizing influence internationally, inducing other nations, such as China and Russia, to stand up their own versions of a military space force.
“That may drive a militarization of space,” she said.
One possible benefit of such a service branch, she said, might be greater emphasis on basic and applied research that could help drive new discoveries.
But, she said, a better way to do that would be to direct more money to research into space-related technologies, as well as the civilian space program.
“If a Space Force brings more attention to the importance of space and space exploration, that could be very good broadly,” she said. “If it brings more prominence and serious work regarding the role of space-based operations in a security context that could be good. If it takes away from the already good work being done in under-funded programs in the U.S. Air Force and NASA that would not be good.”
The Sam Nunn School of International Affairs is a unit of the Georgia Tech Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.