Standing up a Space Corps today is like setting up a USAF in 1911

Friday, July 28th, 2017

The House of Representatives’ 2018 defense budget proposes a whole new military branch, the US Space Corps. The Yawfle thinks it’s too soon:

Look at it this way: how successful would the Air Force have been had it been created ten or twenty years earlier? In 1947, the US Army Air Corps had thousands of planes, thousands of airmen and mechanics, pilots and navigators. They’d just played a major part in winning the biggest war in history, and they’d been the means by which the first atomic bombs were delivered to their intended recipients.

In ’37, let alone ’27, the Army Air Corps was a tiny appendage of the Army, and its role in warfare was largely theoretical. Strategic bombing advocates were making absurd claims (that, absurdly, are still believed today) and the mechanics of CAS were still being worked out. But even here, there was the example of air combat in the First World War to draw on.

Right now, there are two military space vehicles. Two. (Yes, there are countless communications, surveillance and other satellites operated by the military. And all the ICBMs. But the X-37b is the only military space vehicle in any sense that makes sense. It could have guns, and possibly even crew.) Space weapons have never been used in anger. There are no Space Aces. Standing up a Space Corps is most akin to setting up a USAF in 1911, when the US Army had a few experimental aircraft and little else.

Of course, any SF geek knows that we should have a space navy:

There’s a reason why most science fiction has used a naval analog for warcraft in space. Even where space fighters are a thing, the model is not so much Air Force as Naval Aviation – squadrons of space fighters flying off space carriers. Long duration missions will require the traditions and methods of the Navy, not the Air Force. Soon enough, most space missions will necessarily be long-duration missions. That being the case, the sensible thing to do is to stand up a space navy and get it right from the start.

Assume that there is still a United States a hundred years from now, and that space travel is commonplace. (One of these speculations is crazy. But which one?) If there are American bases, outposts, and colonies on other planets then there will need to be an American Space fleet. Having a space fleet would mean that most of the nuclear deterrent that we’ve laboriously created will be moot – attack from space is cheaper, cleaner, and easier. Our strategic deterrent will *be* the space fleet.

In this scenario, its easy to imagine a suitable force structure, and their respective roles.

Army: combat on the ground. Ground troops, fully capable, fixed-wing drone CAS, and artillery to include missiles and nukes.

Navy: combat on, below, and above the seas. Subs (and missiles), surface combatants, and squadrons of drone fighters/bombers.

Aerospace Force: combat above the earth, out to Earth orbit. What is now strategic bombers, air superiority missions, etc. But also space fighters launched from earth or orbital bases and designed to operate in near earth space.

Space Navy: Combat in space. Cruisers of the void, battleships and the like. Capable of strikes to planetary surfaces as well as fighting opposing fleets.

And, having created a United States Space Navy, it wouldn’t be a stretch to go a bit further and create US Space Marines, which is the logical and desirable end for the United States, its military, and space travel.


  1. Your Space Marines reminds me of Space: Above and Beyond. They even got Gunny from Full Metal Jacket involved in the first episode.

  2. Bill says:

    Read all about the astromilitary at Atomic Rockets, there’s a lot of science fact, historical context and science fictional speculation here:

  3. That site is about 2/3 responsible for my Physics degree, Bill.

    Beware, Isegoria readers; for those of the right predisposition it’s an even more inescapable timesink than TVtropes.

  4. Adar says:

    Most everything from this point forward will be drones, space and otherwise.

  5. Thales says:

    Hardly “too soon” in a world where the US is addicted to Russian rocketry and China is a nascent space power. Space Supremacy is going to be the new Air Supremacy which was the new Naval Supremacy.

  6. The merits of this decision aside, I think his analogy isn’t terribly illuminating. For one thing, reconnaissance is just as vital a military mission as strike; indeed the first military use of aircraft was reconnaissance, in initially in the form of balloons (Crimea and the US Civil War) and then heavier than air machines (opening of WWI). What we think of as “fighters” grew out of those reconnaissance pilots shooting at each other with their sidearms. In light of that, I don’t see why the X-37 “counts” but other platforms don’t. Indeed, the X-37 is almost certainly mainly a reconnaissance platform itself. If I had to guess, synthetic-aperture radar mapping among other things.

  7. I meant that it counts in a few senses – reusable, like an aircraft; more multipurpose; and just generally feels more like a dedicated military platform on the lines of military aircraft.

    You’re right, of course about the significance of reconnaissance, and the almost certainty that the X-37 is being used in that role. I think that actually supports my argument, in that early-stage Army Air Corps was being used primarily for recon and only later for direct combat – much where we are now with space.


    Atomic Rockets is most definitely an enormous black hole for time. I’ve lost days if not weeks there.

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