Space Power in Joint Operations: Evolving Concepts

By Fredriksson, Brian E. | Air & Space Power Journal, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Space Power in Joint Operations: Evolving Concepts


Fredriksson, Brian E., Air & Space Power Journal


Editorial Abstract:

Space power is now an integral part of joint operations, without which our nation's forces can conduct few operations. Colonel Fredriksson discusses how space can be better integrated into the joint fight using evolving and transformational constructs, including the space coordinating authority, director of space forces, and space air and space operations center (Space AOC).

OPERATION DESERT STORM, dubbed the "first space war," witnessed an unprecedented integration of space into joint operations. An even greater dependence on space was demonstrated in the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maj Gen Robert Dickman, USAF, retired, now deputy for military space in the Office of the Undersecretary of the Air Force noted, "We had very few weapon systems then [during Desert Storm] that could not have been used without space assets. It was very different in Operation Iraqi Freedom [OIF]. The way we planned our campaign-things like GPS [global positioning system]-were not a force enhancement but embedded in how we operate our forces. And that was a very fundamental difference."1

With the ever-increasing importance of space, the need for an effective command and control (C2) construct to integrate space forces globally-across multiple areas of operations-is increasingly apparent. The secretary of the Air Force, as the Department of Defense's executive agent for space, and the Air Force, as the lead service with the preponderance of space assets, need a comprehensive and fully integrated G2 methodology for space forces-a C2 system that takes into account the unique nature of space power and effectively integrates it into the joint warfighting environment.2 Quite simply, we need a C2 construct that optimizes and leverages the application of space power at the operational level of employment.

The Nature of Space Power

Space power is "the total strength of a nation's capabilities to conduct and influence activities to, in, through, and from space to achieve its objectives."3 For our joint forces, this means exercising the military instrument of national power more effectively through the control and exploitation of the medium of space. Space power's contribution to the military instrument has grown dramatically. Nearly all our forces rely on the GPS for precise navigation and timing, and much of the global information grid uses the medium of space to link units around the world. In addition, blue force tracking and space surveillance and reconnaissance have become integral parts of the common operating picture.

Before examining how to integrate space forces in joint operations, one must understand the unique nature of space power. Doctrine for both the joint community and the Air Force recognizes the differences in the mediums.4 In changing the name of this journal to Air and Space Power Journal (from Aerospace Power Journal), Gen John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, noted that "we will respect the fact that space is its own culture, and that space has different operating principles."5 This is not just to say that space is different than air, though indeed it is, as the laws of aerodynamics and orbital mechanics attest: the control and exploitation of these mediums also differ. The argument is not that air and space forces need be independent. To the contrary, in many respects they are complementary and synergistic. While Earth-imaging spy satellites can examine great swaths of terra firma, manned and unmanned air-breathing vehicles are arguably more responsive, can loiter at a specific location much longer, and can get much closer to the action.

But space power is indeed unique. Why else would we spend exorbitant sums to go there? The reason is that space power provides distinct advantages, which include global presence, perspective, persistence, responsiveness, and destructive potential.6 These attributes are a function of the unique character of space power. …

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