Commanding the Future: The Transformation of Air Force Space Command

By Lord, Lance W. | Air & Space Power Journal, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Commanding the Future: The Transformation of Air Force Space Command


Lord, Lance W., Air & Space Power Journal


Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after changes occur.

-Giulio Douhet

NO ONE WOULD deny that the character of war has changed over the past century. The twentieth century saw a transition from attrition warfare in both world wars to guerilla warfare in Vietnam. The global-security situation has evolved from a standoff between superpowers throughout the Cold War to regional conflicts in the Balkans and Southwest Asia, humanitarian operations, and the global war on terrorism. The latest evolution of Air Force basic doctrine reminds us of the necessity to remain "aware of the lessons of the past-alert and receptive to future technologies and paradigms" because they may, in some manner or another, "alter the art of air and space warfare."1 Air Force Space Command is on a path today that takes these words of wisdom to heart. This article outlines that path by looking first at some key lessons learned from recent conflicts, the foundation laid early on in military space operations, and, finally, the vision for the Air Force Space Command of the future.

Space Today

Today, events unfold before our eyes around the world as if we were there. We have advance warning of adverse weather as it develops. We can communicate with people 10 or 10,000 miles away with equal ease, and a small receiver tells us our exact position and how fast we are moving in the air, on land, or at sea. New technologies move large amounts of data around the world at the speed of light. Although a century ago people would have considered such feats science fiction, modern space capabilities make these, and so many more things, unquestionable facts. Space power has transformed our society and our military. Today, at the outset of the twenty-first century, we simply cannot live-or fight and win-without it.

Although many people refer to Operation Desert Storm as the first space war, it did not mark the first use of space capabilities during conflict. During the war in Vietnam, space systems-communications and meteorological satellites-provided near-real-time data that was essential for combat operations.2 The Gulf War of 1991, however, was the "first conflict in history to make comprehensive use of space systems support."3 Since then, we have worked hard to integrate the high-tech advantages provided by speed-of-light space capabilities into all our forces-air, land, and sea. Those efforts significantly improved our American joint way of war, and they paid off during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

American forces led a coalition that set benchmarks for speed, precision, lethality, reach, and flexibility. As President George W. Bush said on 1 May 2003 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, "Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect, and the world had not seen before. From distant bases or ships at sea, we sent planes and missiles that could destroy an enemy division, or strike a single bunker."4 In a matter of minutes-not hours, days, or weeks as in past wars-commanders identified and engaged targets and received timely battle damage assessment. Lt Gen T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley, the combined force air component commander, reinforced the role that space capabilities played when he said, "The satellites have been just unbelievably capable . . . supporting conventional surface, naval, special ops and air forces. They've made a huge difference for us."5

Space warriors deployed to the coalition's air and space operations centers (AOC); some served as expert advisors to the combined force land component commander; and others deployed to wing-level units where they integrated, facilitated, and generated space-combat effects. In the evolving nature of warfare, though, not all of our space warriors need to deploy. Space forces operating from home stations backed up those deployed experts and in many cases provided direct support and information to joint and coalition forces in the field. …

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