Mastering the Ultimate High Ground: Next Steps in the Military Uses of Space.
In the concluding discussion of his work The Transformation of American Air Power (2000), Benjamin Lambeth mentions that it "would take another book to review the full menu of force development alternatives" facing the Air Force in its attempt to become an air and space force. Three years later, he produced such a book. Nevertheless, the book's subtitle, "Next Steps in the Military Uses of Space," is somewhat misleading. Readers looking for a discussion of future capabilities in military space and of the direction that development might take will be disappointed.
That said, Mastering the Ultimate High Ground remains interesting and timely. Lambeth looks at the Air Force and the decisions it faces in the aftermath of the report issued in 2001 by the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization. Formed in 1999 to examine whether the organization and funding of military space accurately reflected its importance to US national security, the commission described shortcomings in the military space establishment and made several recommendations to correct them--many of them involving the Air Force.
Of most importance to the Air Force are the report's findings that an independent military space service is currently unnecessary, that the Air Force should become the Department of Defense's "executive agent" for space (now in effect), and that the Air Force has not done enough to create a "space cadre" of professional officers dedicated to space power. Many of the commission's recommendations have since been implemented; indeed, the report is responsible for most of the reorganization that has recently taken place in Air Force Space Command. Lambeth addresses these changes, outlines the problems and possibilities facing the Air Force, and explains the commission's findings by assessing the role space has played in the Air Force. He also suggests that the Air Force embrace the space mission in the way the commission intended.
Following an introductory chapter, chapter 2--"The Air Force's Struggle for Space"--outlines the history of military space, including interservice rivalries that ultimately gave the Air Force preeminence in this area. Chapter 3, "Air and Space versus 'Aerospace,'" addresses the very interesting and often annoying Air Force conflict concerning the terms aerospace and air and space (as reflected in the recent changes to the title of this journal). Lambeth describes the birth of the aerospace concept, its reemergence in Air Force doctrine under Gen Michael Ryan, its displacement by the "air and space force" concept, and the effect of this semantic struggle on Air Force thinking about space. The fourth chapter covers "The Space Commission and Its Impact." The remaining chapters explore the relative benefits of two possible focuses of future operations for military space: space control (primarily ground-to-space or space-to-space systems) and force application (space-to-ground systems), as well as Lambeth's conclusions and recommendations to the Air Force regarding the Space Commission's charge to the service.
The author's research is impeccable, and his writing is clear and readable. The fact that Mastering the Ultimate High Ground is the first major work to address the Space Commission's report also makes it extremely valuable. The events of 11 September 2001 and the war on terrorism, however, seem to have caused most of the defense community to ignore the report and the importance of its findings. But space will only become more important, and the issues addressed by the commission will not go away. Air Force professionals should read this book to enhance their understanding of their service's role in space, both now and in the future. However, Lambeth's study is not without certain drawbacks.
First, it is already somewhat dated. Even though one finds insightful analysis of the commission's report and its immediate aftermath, the book appeared prior to another significant change in military space organization: the dissolution of US Space Command and the subsequent enlargement of Strategic Command to assume the former's responsibilities. This event is just as important to military space as the commission's recommended changes, especially because the commission recommended that space receive major force program (MFP) status, similar to that of US Special Operations Command. To disband a unified command for space seems inconsistent with the MFP approach. An examination of that decision would have made the book considerably better and more complete.
Second, the book lacks objectivity. Heavily biased toward the Air Force position, Lambeth downplays criticisms of the service in regard to space, a tendency that calls some of his conclusions into question. According to him, for instance, because the commission concluded that "the Air Force continues to serve responsibly as the military's space custodian" (p. 163), it recommended designating the service the executive agent for space. In actuality the commission advocated many changes in the Air Force, including retooling Air Force Space Command to give the service a clear opportunity to create a cadre of space professionals--something the Air Force had not done by itself. By suggesting executive-agent status, the commission meant to lay the groundwork for a possible Space Corps or separate department--not to ensure it didn't happen. Such bias harms the integrity of the book and compromises the value of its conclusions.
Mastering the Ultimate High Ground presents a superb overview of the history of the Air Force's space organization and doctrine. Unfortunately, its particular slant on the Space Commission report and its effects sometimes marginalizes real concerns by placing the Air Force position in a better light. However, both space professionals and Air Force leaders should read the book since it brings the question of military space once again into the public mind, where it should be.
2d Lt Brent D. Ziarnick, USAF
Schriever AFB, Colorado
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|Author:||Ziarnick, Brent D.|
|Publication:||Air & Space Power Journal|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2004|
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