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The long and winding road to operationally responsive spacelift.

Editor's Note: This article is a direct reply to "Ten Propositions Regarding Space Power. The Dawn of a Space Force" by Lt Col Mark E. Harter, Air and Space Power Journal, Summer 2006.

On 15 November 2001, the Air Force Requirements Oversight Council (AFROC) approved the mission needs statement for operationally responsive spacelift (ORS). Five months later, when the joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) validated and approved that statement, I celebrated, believing that the Department of Defense was now on the path to developing this badly needed military capability. More than five years later, however, in light of the lack of progress since approval of the mission needs statement, I find myself agreeing with the thesis of Lt Col Mark Harter's article "Ten Propositions Regarding Space Power": "The reality is that, as in the evolution of airpower, the true potential of a nation's military space power will come to fruition only when a separate space force is created, complete with its own space-competent leadership, organization, doctrine, theory, policy, and resources." (1) I am indeed pessimistic about the ability of the Air Force to create the space capabilities this country needs to remain the world's preeminent space power. A review of the history of ORS, along with some major institutional changes within the Air Force, illustrates the problem.

First, what is ORS? The AFROC's letter of approval for the mission needs statement sums it up this way:
 ORS ensures the Air Force has the capability to rapidly put payloads
 into orbit and maneuver spacecraft to any point in earth-centered
 space, and to logistically support them on orbit or return them to
 earth. As a key enabler for conducting the full spectrum of military
 operations in space, ORS involves transporting mission assets to,
 through, and from space. Additionally, ORS includes spacecraft
 servicing, which encompasses traditional satellite operations
 activities, but it could also include re-supply, repair, replacement,
 and upgrade of space assets while in orbit. (2)

On 15 April 2002, the JROC validated our military's need to fulfill tasks outlined in the mission needs statement. Unfortunately, based on what has happened in the intervening five years, another 10 to 15 years will pass before we can field an ORS capability. In the formal acquisition process, personnel perform an analysis of alternatives to determine the best way to meet a defined, validated need. Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) /DR began this analysis in February 2003, and the AFROC approved it about two years later, in April 2005. Today, the JROC has yet to validate that analysis and may never do so. Also, since a Milestone A decision never received approval for the ORS initiative, it still lacks designation as a formal acquisition program. Furthermore, five years after the AFROC's approval of the ORS mission needs statement, we still have no ORS program office. Granted, some programs have been funded--such as Force Application and Launch from CONUS [continental United States] (FALCON), which may enhance our ability to launch payloads into orbit quickly--but without an office that can demonstrate how the progress of these programs relates to the established need, their funding remains in doubt from year to year.

Along with the glacial rate of progress on ORS, major institutional changes have occurred within the Air Force that call into question its commitment to space--take, for example, the dissolution of US Space Command (USSPACECOM). Were it not for that command's vision and articulation of war-fighting requirements, as expressed in documents such as the Long-Range Plan: Implementing USSPACECOM Vision for 2020, we would have no ORS mission needs statement. (3) Nor would the statement have received approval without the unwavering support of USSPACECOM's senior leadership. Because the command provided a war-fighting mentality to the Air Force's space leadership, it was well on the way toward developing the "space-competent leadership, organization, doctrine, theory, policy, and resources" mentioned by Lieutenant Colonel Harter (see above). That leadership no longer exists, thus squandering several years of progress.

More recently, rumors about reducing AFSPC's commander billet from a four-star to a three-star, which circulated during the Air Force's latest reorganization drill, called that command's future into doubt. So serious was this speculation that Senator A. Wayne Allard (R-CO) wrote in a letter to the secretary of defense that "despite this national security imperative, it appears that the Department of Defense has not been devoting sufficient attention to enhancing and defending our nation's space dominance. In fact, several recent management and organizational changes suggest that this trend is accelerating, much to the detriment of our nation's security." (4) It is difficult to gauge the seriousness of the threat to AFSPC, but even as a trial balloon it suggests a lack of vision.

Lieutenant Colonel Harter's article correctly points out that "space superiority starts with assured access to space" (emphasis added). (5) If scheduling launches six months to a year in advance (as is the case currently with the evolved expendable launch vehicle, our new generation of space boosters) constitutes "assured access," then we might be all right. I fear, however, that if we need to conduct the full spectrum of military operations in space in a timely manner, then we could easily find ourselves arriving late to the next gunfight, armed only with a dull knife. Clearly, we need a space force to focus our human energy and scarce financial resources to deliver and operate the hardware designed to secure the high ground of space.


(1.) Lt Col Mark E. Harter, "Ten Propositions Regarding Space Power: The Dawn of a Space Force," Air and Space Power Journal 20, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 76, sum06/sum06.pdf.

(2.) Air Force Requirements Oversight Council, memorandum, 15 November 2001.

(3.) Long-Range Plan: Implementing USSPACECOM Vision for 2020 (Peterson AFB, CO: USSPACECOM, [1998]).

(4.) "Senator Allard Gets Assurances That Space Command Will Remain a 4-Star Air Force Command," press release, 13 April 2006, Detail&PressRelease_id=231851&Month=4&Year=2006.

(5.) Harter, "Ten Propositions Regarding Space Power," 66.

Lt Col Stephen K. Remillard, USAF * Peterson AFB, Colorado

* Lieutenant Colonel Remillard, Air National Guard deputy advisor to Air Force Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colorado, is the author of the mission needs statement for operationally responsive spacelift.
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Author:Remillard, Stephen K.
Publication:Air & Space Power Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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