Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Final Frontier!

If it was anyone but His Fraudulency I'd suspect that this "new" Space Force was simply to create more opportunities for corporate welfare, a juicy bone to throw to the dogs of war like Northrup Grumman or Raytheon.

Because it IS, I am trying to figure out where the grift is; what's in it for Trump?

Sadly, the whole magilla may be just some sort of bizarre bug lodged in one of the dimmer-sparking recesses of the First Gentleman's cerebrum. He seems to have a fixation on the idea of Space Marines just like he does with his other fixed ideas like MS-13, fake news, and black people counting his money.

What I really don't get is the notion of making this a separate branch of the armed services.

If it's a grift, it would seem to work perfectly well as a subunit of the Air Force. Unless...the service branches have worked out an effective way to mulct tax dollars by insisting that each service gets a roughly equal share of the DoD fiscal pie. I don't see any way that a GOP administration, Trump or no Trump, slices that same pie into smaller slices so as to fund this "Space Force" equally. So this may be a cunning plan (or as cunning as the Tangerine Talleyrand can get, anyway...) to make the whole pie even bigger.

IMO the place this doesn't make sense is militarily.

I know I get stick for saying this, but the bottom line is that there are two places human beings fight for control; the land and the sea.

(And, frankly, the seas only as an adjunct to human activities on land - that's why it makes little sense for continental powers, like Germany or Russia, to invest heavily in "blue water" navies; they are pretty much self-sufficient with landpower alone.)

There's no permanent "control" of the air, so the notion of a separate "air force" with its own agenda seems to me to be an ineffective way to allocate national resources.

In the case of the USAF, the driving force seems to have been the strategic bombing campaigns of WW2, which have always seemed a massive sink of blood and treasure made possible only because the Allies HAD that much more blood and treasure. I'm not saying that those campaigns were utterly worthless, but that they seem to be to be a pretty fragile hook on which to hang so much money and power.

The air is militarily useful primarily as it helps armed forces control the land and the sea, so to me it makes sense that the ground and naval forces should have a very big say in how the Air Force is armed, organized, and trained.

This "Space Force" seems like an even stronger case for handing off control of the thing - if there's a case to be made for it at all - to the existing services. All three armed services use near-Earth space for communications and intelligence acquisition. Anything else - such as the construction of science-fiction armed platforms - seems to range from pointless to destabilizing. At the very most I could see setting up some sort of inter-service " Joint Low Earth Orbital Command" to coordinate those commo and intel activities to prevent duplication and streamline utilization.

But, hey...it's Trump? So who the hell knows. It could be about exploding those cannons on the beach. Or the asteroids. Or Mars.



  1. Patronage. Patronage. Patronage. Create a new section of the Washington Establishment and have them totally beholden to you for the flow of public funds. You can set up feeding troughs that will last for a long time.

  2. The fat moron wants attention, and "space" gives him attention, just as did announcing plans to go to Mars.

    There's no more thought behind it than behind a cat meowing.

    1. Agreed...except for the "making it a stand-alone branch". I don't think the dim bastard really understands how the DoD is organized, so that part stinks to me of someone who IS in on the grift working Orange Foolius to get some sort of lucre out of this. And I'd love to know who.

      But, yes; the overall "space" thing is the bloated 8-year-old thinking that "moon rockets" are kewl...

  3. Trump says a lot of things, I wouldn't take it too seriously. Not that he even has any authority to do it.

    Personally, if we are going to have another top-level organization designed for another domain, then cyber would be at the top of the list, not space.

    As far as the Air Force goes, yes strategic bombing was part of the original reason and for a long time it was a very important mission with lots of bombers with lots of nukes on a hair-trigger alert.

    Having sat on both sides of the fence, I think the Air Force (and separate air arms generally, which is the norm in most advanced countries) is better as a separate service.

    1. I'd completely agree on the whole "separate branch" if the Army could get the fixed-wing CAS mission back. Win-win, ISTM; the grunts could get their ugly-ass SPADs down in the dirt and the zoomies could go back to wild-blue-yondering. It's the pulling-rope-through-a-soda-straw process of trying to get the fighter jocks to stop trying to force a fast-mover on us earthpigs that's so wearing.

      But we can't, so I have a very parochial view of the USAF. I can see how being separate is better for the Air Force for their own parochial view. But, when I'm trying to wear my civilian hat, I'm not so much how it's better for the U.S. armed services as a group. ISTM that the only real rationale is for the continuance of the strategic bombing (to include non-manned platform such as ALCMs and SSBMs), and I'm not sure I buy that.

      That said, I do agree on the Cyber Branch, completely. To let the civilian spooks at NSA have it all ensures that it's treated not as a defense issue but as an intel issue, and we've all seen how often the intel is correct...

    2. I have no issue if the Army wants its own fixed-wing CAS, but I don't think they actually do want a significant piece of that mission and I don't think they'd be able to do it as well as the Air Force does. I think the USAF wants to "die on that hill" because there are still so many who are very open about desiring to disestablish the USAF and some of those voice are (or were) quite prominent.

      CAS has also evolved significantly and it is nothing like the bygone days where slow, down-in-the-dirt tactics were the only option. Today, the slow-and-low, mark-1 eyeball aiming unguided munitions method of CAS is gone except for strafing. In almost every other circumstance, precision munitions delivered from medium altitudes are superior and that's a good thing because it opens up CAS to many more platforms and delivers more lethality at far less risk to friendly forces. These methods have been honed and developed through the last 16 years on continuous warfare. They also give a lot more flexibility than a unitary low-and-slow P47-like force could provide. One example is the initial invasion of Afghanistan and the routing of Taliban forces - Bombers and Naval Air (with lots of aerial refueling) were the only methods available to support the A-teams embedded with Northern Alliance forces.

      Also, "Strategic Bombing" has not been a priority in the Air Force for 1/4 century. The Cold War was the driver for the strategic mission, and, once that ended, the Air Force disestablished SAC and now all strategic assets are under STRATCOM.

      Bottom line is that I don't hear any complaints about Air Force CAS support anymore - at least none from those actually receiving and using that support.

    3. Andy -

      I am impressed with the Air Force TACP Specialists. From everything I have read they are doing a great job coordinating CAS for the units they support.

      In the old days in the Corps we used to do it by attaching an AO down to infantry company level. Had to be a pilot, as they knew the limitations and capabilities of the supporting aircraft. Of course they hated being down in the mud and the jungle instead of drawing flight pay and going to the O Club after missions. But there were some outstanding ones.

    4. Mike,

      I'm not sure, but I think the Corps still does it that way. JTAC is a joint standard, so technically anyone could get the qualification, but I think the Marines still use pilots.

  4. I see nothing but bad in this "space force."

    Also, I have a feeling that we're going to regret even bringing it up.


    1. But, but, but, Sheera...

      What about the pseudo-arachnids attacking Buenos Aires from their colony on Klendathu? Don't we need some of Heinlein's Starship Troopers to win the Bug Wars?

  5. @FDChief: "I'd love to know who. Congress pushed for it.

    Pentagon seems to be against it. And the idea predates the baby-snatcher by decades. Starting in 1985, Space used to be a Unified Combatant Command like CentCom or PaCom. That is until Rummy the Dummy merged it with StratCom back in 2002. Should have left it as is.

    But no need for a sixth branch IMHO. The only potential advantage I see is a seat on the Joint Chiefs. But they could (make that should) have a permanent space rep there without forming a separate branch. Crikey, if the Chief of the National Guard Bureau has a seat there is no reason that Space and Cyber should not be represented.

    Agree with Andy that Cyber should have gone to the top of the list. Instead they seem to be a stepchild of the NSA. Also agree that the Air Force is better as a separate service. Let me qualify that by saying 'yes but, as long as the other services have their own specialized air arm without having to beg assets'.

    As I understand the current proposal the new Space Force will be a separate branch but still come under the Secretary of the Air Force. So they will still be beholden to Air Force budgetary guidance and control.

    1. As I noted in my reply to Andy, the problem seems to be that the USAF sees the CAS mission as a slippery-slope; give the grunts their dirty little P-47s and pretty soon they'll want REAL fighters and then where'll we be? The USAF has been willing to die on that hill since there's BEEN a USAF and I don't see them changing. It's all very frustrating.

      I don't get it; how can it be a "branch" but still subordinate to the SecAF?

      I CAN see the porkbarrel bastards in Congress seeing this as a loverly tub of lolly to spread around to all their CEO buddies. Christ, as if we weren't bad enough reviving the whole "Orphan Train" and "Let's Intern The Nips" things...

    2. "I don't get it; how can it be a "branch" but still subordinate to the SecAF?

      I don't get it either. But I note that USSOCOM, the unified command for special ops, is not subordinate to any of the component secretaries. They bypass those and the Joint Chiefs to get their resources, policy, and oversight from an ASD. To my military mind the so-called Space Force, if enacted, should have the same arrangement. Samo samo for USCYBERCOM.

  6. Regarding CAS, the Marines have always felt the same way as you. And I felt strongly about it for years. But 21st century air campaigns have to be centrally controlled, too much room for error if not. It does not matter if the mission is for CAS or deep interdiction or strategic bombing or whatever. Too many ways for individual airstrikes to conflict with each other. Too many opportunities for blue on blue.

    The P-47 you mention, or any fixed wing. cannot hug the treetops and fly Nap-of-the-Earth like a rotary wing is able to do. Too much lethality in air defense nowadays. The days of the 'big-sky-little-bullets' theory of flying is long gone. And what does the Army (and the Corps) know about SEAD? The USAF wild weasels (or whatever their successors are named) are the best in the world at it. Plus the AF has some other super spooky magic tricks with electronic deception. I don't see reinventing that.

    Why not use the Apaches that the Army already has for CAS. They are armored(?), they can get down in the mud, they have 30mm cannon and 70mm rockets and Hellfire missiles. But instead of CAS they are used as a maneuver element - instead of CAS the missions are 1] Anti-armor, 2] Covering Force, 3] Escort the Chinooks.

    1. Attack helicopters are cannon fodder against truly modern air defences as soon as they set their main rotor into motion.
      The Russians and Chinese don't haev such truly modern air defences, but they have the tech and could improvise something that turns Apaches into mere turkeys in a year.

      Actually, two subsystems (one is available from Israel off the shelf and the other being an AMRAAM equivalent which both Russia and China have) and three commercial light trucks with some improvised gear would suffice.
      Give me two million dollars, access to MOTS gear and a year and I toast you an Apache that's warming up its engines (main rotor rotating) anywhere in 8 km radius in flatlands.

    2. I've gotta second Sven here; the recent development of effective low-tech, cheap but deadly AAA systems make helo-platform CAS a mug's game. Hell, back in Gulf War 3 the Iraqis pulled off a AAA ambush that tore up the AH-64 outfit involved, and that was with old-school cannon artillery, MGs, and manpack SAMs.

      Ground-air coordination isn't rocket science, and US FA dopes do it all the time to ensure safe transit of air assets thru our range fan. I'm confident a 21st Century Army Air Corps could cooperate with USAF SEAD and air-superiority missions the same way the USMC air arm works with the USN. What's missing here isn't the technical skills, but the institutional fears inside the USAF that any loss of control over armed fixed-wing capacity is a slippery slope to recapture by the Army.

    3. Sven is correct about the radar cross section of helos giving them away. And if his two million dollar system works as advertised then it completely negates all helo operations whether Apaches or Cobras, Chinooks or Blackhawks or Ospreys. So there goes the Army's air cavalry concept down the toilet. Ditto for Marine aerial insert operations. Double that for AF SAR.

      Although it seems to me the same applies to fixed wing. Perhaps even more so for the low slow flyers you are looking for in the CAS role. Those "effective low-tech, cheap but deadly AAA systems" you mention are even more deadly against the light strike CAS aircraft you want in the Army.

      But I'm the eternal optimist here. I think that that the system Sven proposes can be neutralized or spoofed. That is not rocket science either. Maybe your Army or my Corps could not field a system that counteracts it but AFRL could. The system you are talking about threatens the AF also.

      The RAF did well supporting both the British Army and the RN in WW2. Even though they did not have aircraft specifically designed for CAS, they did dedicate fighter attack squadrons to the job. The Marines who pioneered CAS concepts 90 years ago do not use an aircraft specifically designed for CAS. It is not the type of aircraft that is important, it is the training and procedures and doctrine that make up success or failure for close air support.

      BTW your mention of FA ground air coordination is valid for a small # of sorties. USMC FSCC does the same, although they usually have an ALO and his crew attached. And it does not cover a situation in which there are thousands of sorties per day.

    4. Actually, I wasn't really thinking about radar cross section.

      I was thinking of two Helispot sensors for triangulation of a helicopter followed by a AA-12 ground launch to that place, where the AA-123 can lock onto the helo because the rotating main rotor gives it away.
      Alternatively to a high end missile you could use ALAS, LORANA, SPIKE-NLOS or Hornet to engage the helicopter based on the triangulation.

      Helispot here (scroll a bit):


    5. Sven -

      I like it. Small area though, you would need lots of those Helispot teams. And Helispot looks like it was originally designed for peacetime conditions to determine airspace intrusion. Therefore plenty of time to assimilate background noises and block them out. Under wartime conditions, with moving locations and with diverse background noise, I suspect they might face a harder time.

      And if ever perfected, helicopters with acoustic stealth are not far behind. Research, and some development into noise reduction for helicopters has been going on for decades. MH-X Silent Hawk is just one example. Modulated rotor blade spacing is one method. Shrouded tail rotor, or no tail rotor is another. Some city police department helicopters are looking for ways to get a quieter helicopter version - not necessarily to sneak up on the crooks, but more to limit citizen complaints

      I wonder if a Schlieren effect MASINT sensor mounted on a long loitering drone might not be a better way to detect helicopters. I have no clue though on the amount of area one such sensor could cover.

    6. I've also seen a lot of prototype designs for anti-helicopter mines that queue off acoustic sensors. Helicopters are also vulnerable to anti-tank weapons, as we've seen demonstrated in Syria and, of course, manpad technology continues to improve and the newest designs are outpacing countermeasures.

      Overall, I think it's a bad time to fly low on the modern battlefield, especially in a helicopter.

    7. I wrote a lot about the whole attack helicopter issue.

      I suppose an attack helicopter would need to be even more gold-plated than Comanche (but in different ways) to be survivable against state of the art threats, but there's little hope that this could be cost-efficient.

      I'm very much in favour of putting rotary aviation resources into armoured recce-ish troops instead..

    8. I forgot:

    9. Andy -

      Rotary wing vulnerability to antitank weapons was demonstrated 50-plus years ago in Viet-Nam. Old time RPG-7s and even an older RPG-2 took some helos down. But I think the bigger loss was to 12.7mm Dushkas and to the 14.5mm Degytarev. The VC were pretty good at helicopter traps. The Army lost over 5000 helos in Nam. Don't know how many of those were due to enemy action. Marine Corps helo losses to enemy action were about 250, which was 56% of total losses. That does not count another 31 lost on base flight-lines to sapper attacks. Extrapolate that percentage and perhaps the Army losses were 2900(?).

      The Air Force and Navy lost close to 60 SAR helos over the North but those were due to heavier weapons. And like in the South, many of those were shot down in a helicopter trap.

      I've heard about the Russian "helicopter-killer mines". Bombing the LZ prior to the helo landing was what we did in Viet-Nam because many potential LZs were booby-trapped. Typically with an explosive package charges rigged up to vertical poles and webbed with cords. Rudimentary but effective.

    10. Thanks Mike - what's old is new again.

      I spent most of my career in Air Force CSAR, so I'm a helo (and 130) guy at heart. Indeed, in our wars in the ME, Africa and South Asia, the biggest threats were almost always HMG's and RPG's.

    11. Anti-helicopter mines are meant to hit overflying helos. There's also a proposal for a tethered balloon that gets caught in a rotor, pulls a stronger kevlar line up and that then jams the rotor. The point is to make every sortie a lottery, it's not about landing zones.

      Vietnam helos mostly had but one engine (especially the H-1s!) and no hardening. Today's helos are much more hardened, but hardening is rather the difference between crashed or returned than between mission kill for 4+ weeks and ability to go on. Hence the disater in OIF where an Apache regiment was taken out of the picture for the rest of the campaign even though they only lost one helo completely.

    12. Sven -

      That Apache strike was bollixed up badly. A classic trap, and aided by a fiasco in coordination on the US side. I'm not privy to Army squadron numbers, but 31 a/c makes it seem more like a battalion than a full regiment.

      Because of prior O&M funding cuts, the level of contractor support to the field had been reduced and squadron maintenance was trying to catch up. This undoubtedly resulted in longer a/c down time ergo the month recovery. No excuse I know, but definitely a contributing factor.

      Additionally that strike was not a CAS mission. Apache was never designed for CAS. It was a deep strike against an armored division. Another consideration is that perhaps the Army Aviation brass was lulled by the reported 500 Iraqi tanks taken out by Apaches 12 years earlier in Desert Storm. Although I always doubted that figure as being based on pilot claims and not backed up by legitimate BDA. Army Aviation was always yearning to match or take away the A-10 mission from the AF.

      Regarding a/c armor, I suspect too much is just as bad as none at all. Give the pilot an armored bathtub for a cockpit and forget the rest of it. I recall that in Viet-Nam the CH-46 pilots wore flak diapers in addition to the armored seatpad. We poor grunts in the back of the bus had zilch.

  7. I don't think that cyber operates enough like traditional armed services to be in the armed services. The reason is that cyber tends to place its assets in other countries *before* active operations take place.

    The Russians would certainly regard placing remote controlled naval mines in Vladivostok harbor as an act of war. Similarly, placing a trojan in the Vladivostok harbor control system could be interpreted as an act of war. However, the law is a bit squishy on this point as this is the sort of thing that spies have done. Making cyber part of the armed services would really lead credence to interpreting the placement of cyber "assets" in opposing countries as acts of war.

    Since cyber deals with *pre-placement* the opposing countries, when they find a trojan, they then have a freebie casus belli.

    Since America is way ahead in the cyber game, (and likely has the most "assets" already deployed in opposing countries) it makes sense for America to keep this issue "fuzzy".

    1. @Ael - "Since America is way ahead in the cyber game,..."

      You are joking, right!

    2. No, I am not joking. A combination of national technical know how and the concentration of compliant high-tech companies in America gives a huge boost to their large scale cyber efforts. You don't hear much about it, for obvious reasons. Likewise, America has worked hard to slow down various cyber treaties and conventions.

    3. So, if true, why are we not countering Russian cyber efforts?

    4. Our problems with cyber here in the US aren't technical - the problems are bureaucratic, resources and legal.

    5. Andy -

      "...problems are bureaucratic, resources and legal.

      Sad, but that has always been the case for us - not just in cyber.

  8. Kaplan at Slate has an interesting observation; that the primary need for the U.S. in space is defensive, deterring ASAT and ground station attacks, and the problem with a new branch would likely be that the Space Force brass would very likely be unwilling to limit their ambitions to something so not-sexy. That the needs of the other branches would be likely to get the short shrift.

    1. Great article. Kaplan makes some good points. Especially regarding the new CinCSPACE not spending "much time or money on the other service chiefs’ wish lists." He is going to be too busy going in his own direction. Hopefully Dunford and the Joint Chiefs will give the new Space Force a firm policy, and a mission statement that puts those concerns and the support of the other services on a high priority. And keeps the new Space Force from restarting Ronnie Raygun's Star Wars.

      But you cannot support the other services by only playing defense. Amidst a war you need to destroy hostile ASAT capabilities, and neutralize their GPS jammers. I imagine those other services will want some enemy space assets destroyed when hostilities start going kinetic. A peer enemy would have intelligence and reconnaissance satellites that can provide target info on Army unit HQ locations and troop movements, on Navy Task Forces, and on critical AF assets. What Army, Navy, AF, or Marine unit commander wouldn't want enemy spybirds blinded?

      Opposing force comm satellites will be tough to take out as they are typically high flyers. And perhaps NSA wants to leave them be so they can listen in. Maybe just degrade them during critical circumstances and make them temporarily deaf. Same same for their satellite navigation. Systems such as GLONASS or BeiDu can provide accurate guidance to their 'smart bombs' just like our GPS provides for ours. They are also high flyers, so I would opine that spoofing would be a lot easier than killing them.

    2. I think that's a real concern. The first priority of any bureaucracy is to increase the power of the bureaucracy.

      It's something we saw with, for example, the NRO, which started as a small, agile collaboration between agencies and went on to completely control US spy satellites and declare itself an intelligence agency.

    3. I think Kaplan's point is that the PRIORITY is defending our own assets. The closest peer competitors - China and Russia - are still behind technically in satellite technology. It'll be more critical for us to keep them from knocking down our birds than to knock down theirs. Plus, I suspect that our ASAT is slightly ahead, as well, so the offensive capacity will be there without needing a SecSPACE to push for it...

    4. "It'll be more critical for us to keep them from knocking down our birds than to knock down theirs."

      I agree, but physics makes that very difficult and they have a lot of incentive to target our space assets. I don't really have a solution to that problem.

  9. @FDC - "I suspect that our ASAT is slightly ahead, ..."

    Perhaps. Although the Chinese ten years ago tested and successfully knocked down a satellite at much higher altitudes than we have done (534 miles high versus our 153). And it was also a polar orbiting satellite, which might have made it a bit harder (also known as highly elliptical orbit or HEO and what the Russians call a Molniya or Lightning orbit).

    Plus the US claims that in 2013 China tested a deep space ASAT system capable of taking down satellites in Geostationary orbit also known as GEO, which is at an altitude of over 22,000 miles. This is the orbit for the bulk of both communication and weather satellites. That ASAT could also easily reach GPS satellites which orbit at about 12,000 miles in medium earth orbit.

    That 2013 test is probably the reason that some in Congress pushed for an independent Space Force.

    So it is possible we may end up in a major space race - this time in ASATs.

  10. Okay, I'm jumping in here cause we're talking tech and I think we're losing sight of the bigger picture which...

    For every piece of oooh-ahhh multi-million dollar war machine, an equally cheaper version of "LOL@multimillion+dollar_ machine?" Will be developed that will turn your decades long effort of engineering and genius into a flaming wreckage of regret by a snot nose, HS dropout who picks lint from his asscrack for entertainment.

    Space Force sounds ubercool, but in the end will be such a colossal waste of money and resources that America will double down on stupid and throw more money into it because of sunk costs...all the while some third world banana republic of "sheeeit, byotch!" Will figure out a low cost weapon system that will burn our multi-trillion dollar boondoggle into more orbiting space junk.

    Just say'n

    There are better and cheaper things to waste money on than pursuing Trump's or anyones space force.