22 January 2019

In her op-ed, Good Move by Trump to Establish Space Command, but is Organization Change the Answer?, Strauss Distinguished Scholar Celeste Ward Gventer argues that Trump’s attention to the possibility of an attack on US space systems is good, but his solutions may not be the best way to deal with the issue.

Gventer begins the article with a quote from the Commission to Assess United State National Security Space Management and Organization led by Donald Rumsfeld, “If the US is to avoid a ‘Space Pearl Harbor’, it needs to take seriously the possibility of an attack on US space systems.” This warning was made in January 2001, and Gventer argues that the US government has not done enough to address this possibility. In the meantime, Russia and China have been developing technologies that are aimed at destroying US space capabilities, which are vital to US military superiority.

Gventer gives credit to the Trump administration and Congress for recognizing the issue and trying to come up with solutions. She believes that the President’s directive ordering DoD to establish a combatant command for space makes sense. However, she argues that the idea of a Space Force does not: “a better approach would be to give the new multi-service command special authorities.” She argues that “a new space force will face opposition in Congress, but requesting [special] authorities for the new space command might be more palatable” because it costs less and is less likely to produce unproductive competition for resources among the military services. 

Gventer argues that the establishment of a Space Development Agency for rapid procurement of new capabilities will help, but the US government also needs to address the space “eco-system.” She suggests it should do this by funding educational initiatives, reprioritizing activities of internal research, developing new operational concepts, devising ways to mitigate the loss of space assets and recruiting new types of civilian and military personnel.

Celeste Gventer says that “Donald Trump’s attention to the issue is a good first step” because our nation’s adversaries are moving quickly to attack the tempting space targets. If we do not act soon, she warns that “Rumsfeld could be forgiven saying he told us so, or in his words, this is a ‘known known!’”