A lack of understanding by Americans of the importance of space is hurting the effort to establish the Space Force, the secretary of the Air Force said Dec. 7.
"Communication, navigation, information: everything is dependent upon space, but people don't recognize that," Barbara Barrett said at the Ronald Reagan National Defense Forum, in Simi Valley, California. "There isn't a constituency for space — even though almost everyone uses space before their first cup of coffee in the morning."
The Space Force is expected to be a separate service under the Department of the Air Force.
Barrett said she believes most Americans remain largely unaware of the extent to which they depend on space in their daily lives. Water and power systems, for instance, depend on space technology, as do things such as ATMs and gas pumps.
"I'll bet fewer than 10 percent of the American public recognizes that since 2011, the only way American astronauts can get to our $110 billion investment, 225 miles up at the International Space Station ... is by buying a seat from the Russians," Barrett said.
"We are dependent upon others for much of our space access. And that's just not the position that America should be in or want to be in," she said.
For decades, Barrett said, the U.S. has led the way in space. Though it is still a leader, losing that edge has become a real risk, she said. And the secretary said the nature of the space environment has changed, making the U.S. vulnerable.
"Our capability in space was predominantly built at a time when we thought space was a benign environment," Barrett said.
"In 2007, the Chinese demonstrated their ability to take satellites — their own satellite in that case — out of the skies," she said. "So we know we are now vulnerable. So the assets upon which we depend are now vulnerable."
The U.S., Barrett said, has more to lose than any other nation from malicious activity in space. This makes a space force even more critical.
"Our way of life is more dependent upon space than any other nation," she said. "It is important for America to get on the case of space. And we have got to be able to deter derogatory action in space, and if deterrence doesn’t work, we need to be prepared to be something other than a victim with our space assets. So where we are is ahead, but that lead is shrinking, and our vulnerability and our dependence is greater than anyone else. It is time for us to move forward with a space force."
Barrett said the new Space Force would be responsible for defending assets in space — to protect defense and commerce systems already there, for instance — but also responsible for creating and using space assets to enable forces on Earth.
"We have to be able to defend what we have there that we count on," she said. "We need to build, put things in space that can themselves be defended. We need to then be able to use space as an enabler for our war fighters in other domains. So we need to be able to have free access to space for ourselves and others — benevolent others."
While the Air Force became an independent service in 1947, its lineage traces directly back to the Army's Aeronautical Division, which was established in 1907. In a similar fashion, the Space Force is expected to be largely carved out of the Air Force. It's been more than 100 years since the United States military has created a new service in the way it now hopes to build the Space Force.
"This will be a ... talent-driven, technologically-based entity," Barrett said. "We'll get a lot of help and a lot of input on how to do it. But we're putting the A-team on it and we're working to build the very best system. There will be a lot of contested elements as we go through the process. But I think what you can rely upon is that there are people looking at this that are doing it with a lot of thought and a lot of attention."