6 September 2019
AFSPC Study, Eye On China, Urges 'Expansive' New Strategy
By Theresa Hitchens
WASHINGTON: A new Air Force Space Command (AFSPC)-sponsored study lays out eight possible far-futures for human endeavors in space, and concludes that the US requires a sweeping new strategy in space that encompasses protection of commercial activities such as resource extraction and US citizens living off-world.
The study asserts that in order to remain a preeminent world power, the “U.S. must recognize that in 2060, space will be a major engine of national political, economic, and military power for whichever nations best organize and operate to exploit that potential.”
To that end, it further recommends that AFSPC and the newly established Space Command develop a strategy that “must address how the national security establishment will defend the full range of expanded national interests in space (i.e., civil and commercial space capabilities and citizens in space) – not just the services that directly support national security.”
Such a strategy must take a whole of government approach, the study says, and include a plan for increased investment and an improved regulatory system to empower US commercial firms — something the Trump Administration is already championing. In addition, the study says, the new strategy must place a new government emphasis on supporting science and technology.
The Sept. 5 study, called “The Future of Space 2060 and Implications for U.S. Strategy,” was based on the outcome of an AFSPC “futures” workshop in March that included representatives of DoD, NASA, NATO, academia and nongovernmental groups. It is expected to be made public on AFSPC’s website as early as today.
One Air Force insider not involved with the effort characterized the study as “interesting” because it is unusual for an AFSPC-sponsored study to “look beyond just military space issues and highlight that a Space Force may not be the optimal way to pursue commercial and space leadership objectives.”
However, another independent Air Force watcher cautioned that the study is, at its heart, a “futures study” — meaning it was designed to spit-ball possibilities rather than to make strategic recommendations. Further, this expert told me, it “does not represent mainstream Air Force thinking” — or even the preponderance of opinion at AFSPC — which is concentrated on how to field better capabilities to “protect and defend” current national security assets.
Indeed, at an Aug. 29 media roundtable, AFSPC and Space Command leader Gen. John Raymond said that the new command is primarily seeking to hone a “sharper mission focus on protecting and defending our critical space assets.”
Indeed, many of the participants in the study are well-known supporters of what Aerospace Corporation has dubbed the “Galactic Battle Fleet” school of thought. These futurists have been touting a broad new concept of US space power that encourages human activity extending to the Moon, Mars and beyond — underpinned by a military space juggernaut. (Breaking D readers may remember that back in April the Space Development Agency revealed its notional future space architecture that included projecting power to cislunar space.)
The study developed a matrix of possible futures based on today’s trends, but all based on the assumption of a deep strategic rivalry between the United States and China. The study does not seek to predict which vision of the future is more likely.
The scenarios are judged as positive or negative based on three boundary conditions:
With regard to the first two boundary conditions, the obvious bias in the study is that ‘more is better’ — i.e. that more humans in space, and more monetary investment empowering an “expansive” future for space activities is to be desired. (Aficionados of the sci-fi series “The Expanse” will rejoice.)
Three possible futures, with suitably visionary names, are deemed positive, where “the U.S. coalition retain[s] space leadership across the civil, commercial, and military realms.” They vary, however, in the extent envisioned for the ‘expansiveness of the expanse’, if you will, of humans and commerce to cislunar space and beyond.
Star Trek: Most
Optimistic and Expansive
Garden Earth: Optimistic
Elysium: Optimistic and
Three “negative” scenarios are proposed, two of which assume that China has wrested the “lead” in space power from the United States:
Zhang He: Expansive but
Most Pessimistic (Hint:
Zhang He was an ancient Chinese
Wild Frontier: Expansive
Xi’s Dream: Expansive but
Two more scenarios are presented that focus instead on the state of “military dominance” and involve a lower level of human and commercial activity in space. (Cry boo, all you sci-fi buffs!)
The “positive” vision is called “Space Today” which largely reflects the status quo, but with new and improved US military systems that “are highly resilient, maneuverable, robotically refuelable, self-healing to attack, highly integrated, artificial intelligence driven, highly autonomous, and reconstitution ability is enhanced.” That is, a force structure that fulfills all current Air Force desires.
The “negative” scenario, called “Dark Skies,” is that an ascendant China (and allies) is the primary space power, with all the goodies in its own military space fleet.
While the study urges work on a new strategy as a next step, experts say there is neither a requirement nor a guarantee that anything more will happen than a lot of copies going onto a book shelf at Peterson AFB in Colorado.
“Think ‘Net Assessment” studies,”
one analyst said, referencing the
legendary Pentagon futures group led
for decades by Andy Marshall, whose
nickname was Yoda. Marshall’s office
traditionally looked at least 20
years ahead. (The current director
is James Baker.) While the Office of
Net Assessment’s products have
sometimes led to major policy
changes, a goodly number of its
studies were deemed just too
futuristic for practical