Earlier this Spring, the leadership of the U.S. Space Force, the country’s newest military branch, announced that it plans to roll out a new doctrine in the near future. But what that doctrine will look like remains to be seen — and Congress, which will be the ultimate arbiter of the document and the vision it contains, needs to ensure that the country gets it right.
In the military, “doctrine” is meant to be an authoritative guidance, a kind of “blessed theory” summarizing what an organization believes to be true about a subject. When it comes to the doctrine of the newly-minted Space Force, the name of the game is space power, and what, exactly, the U.S. should plan to do in this new domain.
Nearly two decades ago, Gen. Simon “Pete” Worden and Maj. John Shaw lamented that in spite of the “pervading influence and compelling importance” of space, there is “little to be found today in the way of coherent space power doctrine and strategy.” Unfortunately, little has changed in the years since, even as the stakes in what has become an emerging economic, military and strategic domain have grown ever higher.
Today, there are high hopes among many on Capitol Hill that the recent formation of a dedicated U.S. Space Force will advance new thinking in this arena. That, however, is by no means inevitable. Unfortunately, the U.S. military has historically proven to be remarkably tone-deaf regarding the changing strategic environment of space — and failed to “think big” about where America needs to go in this new domain. It therefore falls to Congress to force the Pentagon to craft a doctrine for the Space Force that frames national priorities properly.
Fortunately, the U.S. has centuries of experience with what works and what doesn’t in the development of new frontiers. From the westward expansion to our development of sea and air power, Americans are truly the world’s frontiersmen. As we increasingly look to space as a new frontier, policymakers need to make sure that military planners are considering a number of critical questions:
Doctrines are intended to serve as the fundamental reference, and to shape possibilities in the mind of officers and servicemen. Therefore, getting them right matters a great deal. The same holds true when it comes to space. Depending on how it is developed, the Space Force doctrine will either launch us into a new era of space power or keep us tethered to the launch pad.
Peter Garretson is a senior fellow in Defense Studies with the American Foreign Policy Council and a strategy consultant who focuses on space and defense. He was previously the director of Air University’s Space Horizons Task Force, America’s think tank for space, and was deputy director of America’s premier space strategy program, the Schriever Scholars.