Proposed Tenets of Space Power: Six Enduring Truths

By McNiel, Samuel L. | Air & Space Power Journal, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Proposed Tenets of Space Power: Six Enduring Truths


McNiel, Samuel L., Air & Space Power Journal


Editorial Abstract:

The Air Force has a policy of using space as the high ground and has funded programs for building responsive launch vehicles and applying force directly from space. At the same time, the service continues to improve its current space capabilities. However, the Air Force has no tenets about how best to employ space power. Major McNiel stipulates that without guiding, enduring truths about space power, there is no doctrinal foundation to build upon, and the Air Force risks building systems and developing tactics, techniques, and procedures that do not ensure the most efficient and effective use of space power. He proposes six such tenets for consideration.

But if we limit our efforts only to applying space technologies to existing modes of war fighting, we have undershot. . . . It is no different than all the ways our armed forces once found for airpower to support ground operations-and do no more.

-Hon. Peter B. Teets

Undersecretary of the Air Force

THE TENETS OF space power presented in this article address the necessity of developing doctrine for conducting military operations in space. Maj M. V. Smith's study Ten Propositions Regarding Spacepower concisely articulates the nature of space power by conclusively showing that it is a unique form of military power-not an extension of airpower.1 If, as Smith demonstrates, space power is unique, then enduring truths must exist regarding the employment of that power. This article proposes six such truths with the hope that the Air Force community will examine, discuss, and incorporate them into our service's doctrine.

Tenets Are Appropriate at This Time

We have heard legitimate discussion about the appropriateness of developing tenets of space power. Because many people believe that space power's primary mission today is force enhancement and further believe that it should integrate as closely as possible with air operations, they argue that the tenets of air-power provide sufficient guidance. However, since the Air Force now has policy and programs calling for space power to do much more than force enhancement, the service needs doctrine to guide the development and employment of space forces. Furthermore, we can now draw on experience in space matters and a wealth of research to form a basis for articulating the tenets of space power in doctrine.

Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, notes that "the application of air and space power is refined by several fundamental guiding truths ... known as tenets."2 This article builds upon Smith's propositions, focuses on truths about employment as we now understand them, and suggests their inclusion into doctrine. With these truths as a starting point, as space power matures the tenets of space power will also evolve-just as AFDD 1 says they should.3

The idea that we do not have enough experience in space flight to develop space doctrine does not stand up. Mankind's dream to reach into space is almost as old as the dream to fly.4 Only 13 years after the Wright brothers' first flight, Robert H. Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket-the direct antecedent of modern space-launch vehicles.5 Dating from the launch of Sputnik in the 1950s, we now have over 46 years of operating experience in space.6 The National Reconnaissance Office was created in 1960.7 An Air Force major command has assumed responsibility for space forces for over 21 years.8 Furthermore, a unified command responsible for war fighting with space forces has existed for over 18 years.9 The nearly half century of experience includes major utilization of space power in the Vietnam war; the Cold War; Operations Desert Storm, Allied Force, and Enduring Freedom; and now the ongoing Iraqi Freedom. After hundreds of years of thinking about going to space and five decades of operating in space, we obviously have plenty of experience to write tenets about space power. …

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