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SPACE FARCE!

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His Orange Majesty has decreed the existence of a sixth [sic] branch [sic] of the armed forces.  It will surprise no one to find that I’m skeptical of the idea of creating an independent service to focus on war in space.  Trump is unclear on the distinction between service and branch, but he claims that the Space Force will be “separate but equal” from the Air Force, which strongly implies a service that will manage its own recruitment, training, procurement, and production of organizational doctrine.

Broadly speaking, there are a couple good reasons for building new services, and several bad reasons.  The first good reason is the provision of political protection for specific capabilities that the existing institutional structure deemphasizes or ignores; think about arguments for the protection of air capabilities from “ground pounders” in the early twentieth century, or the abortive efforts to create a Special Forces service in the 1980s.  The second good reason is to provide a bureaucratic structure that facilitates achieving innovative gains from specialization; think the argument that air forces could not achieve strategic effect while bound to the needs of armies and navies.  Now, I’m pretty skeptical of both of these arguments, but at least they make a sort of prima facie sense. The bad reasons are as follows; the creation of bureaucratic barriers that span across critical, integrated missions (think the combat air support debate), the creation of a lobbying organization within government for a particular kind of warfare, the ossification of procurement practices, and a few others. I wrote a whole book about it.  

With respect to space, the good reasons don’t seem very compelling, while the bad reasons look very threatening indeed.  All of the existing services use space heavily for communication and information acquisition; it is not faintly clear that the existing structure misunderstands or devalues space.  Moreover, its not obvious that there are clear returns to greater specialization in space; the existing structure has done a very good job of capturing gains from space integration, probably better than any other military establishment worldwide.  On the downside, the very last thing that the United States wants with respect to military policy in space is bureaucratic conflict between an independent service with its own priorities and vision, and the other services.

It’s a recipe for disaster.  I chatter a little bit about it here, with Mark Duckenfield from the Army War College.

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