Title: Distinguishing Space Power from Air Power: Implications for the Space Force Debate

Subject: Space power can be distinguished from air power by critically examining the respective theories.

Author(s): Alec M. Robinson; Budd A. Jones, Jr. (Faculty Advisor)


Abstract: Air Force General Charles "Chuck" Horner, former commander of U.S. Space Command, advocates the creation of an independent Space Force, separate from the Air Force. Justifications for such a change depend in large measure on whether space power can provide a way of fighting and winning wars distinct from that provided by the other services. An important aspect of this issue is whether differences between air power and space power suggest a rationale for a separate and independent Space Force.

It has been said that space is at a crossroads. We cannot afford to wait for the next war to show us if space power will, as air power did, revolutionize the conduct of warfare. We cannot make such a decision based on vague allegories to the air power debate. A more rigorous approach is required. This paper sheds light on this question from the perspective of doctrine and theory and seeks to suggest the next steps in keeping the U.S. approach to space "from being too badly wrong."

This research project critically compares air and space power in order to discern whether the differences between air and space power suggest a paradigm shift in the way wars will be fought. As a foundation for comparison, air and space power are exposed in terms of features of the mediums, characteristics of the forces, and tenets of employing forces in each medium. The resulting expositions of air and space power are compared, extracting and evaluating the key differences. These differences are then explored to determine if a new paradigm of warfighting is emerging. Finally, the differences between air and space power and their implications for warfighting are examined with respect to the need for a separate and independent Space Force.

The finding of this project was that air and space power are indeed different, but not so fundamentally so that the creation of a separate Space Force is mandated. Further development of space capabilities, operational concepts, and doctrine is necessary before the need for a Space Force can be determined based on the natures of air and space power. However, General Horner's concern that the cost of concurrently developing space forces and modernizing air forces is too large for the Air Force's budget is an unresolved question.

Last updated 1999 Mar 16