Story by Charles Pope, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
Invoking history and a vivid recent example, Lt. Gen. David D. Thompson, the vice commander of the newly created U.S. Space Force, presented the case at this year’s Air Warfare Symposium for the new service and how its development as a separate, new force differs from circumstances surrounding the Air Force’s birth in 1947.
“Does anybody really believe that back in 1947 the vast majority of the American people didn’t understand what air power was? What it meant and what it had done for the nation?” Thompson asked during a 30-minute address at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium.
“Just two years previously, air power had played a strategic and tremendous effect on the Second World War. In fact, by all arguments airpower reduced the length of that war by years,” he said. “Innately and inherently, the American public understood what an Air Force was, what it had done and what it would continue to do for the nation.”
That broad public connection and understanding of space power is not as strong with the Space Force, which was created Dec. 20, 2019, as the first, new and independent military service since 1947.
“Far too many people truly don’t understand what space power is, what it means to national security and why Space Force is important to the nation,” Thompson said.
To fill the void, Thompson provided some of the most specific details to date of why a Space Force is necessary.
Among the most compelling occurred at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, in early January, when a missile warning crew assigned to the Space Force provided crucial early warning to Al Asad Air Force Base in Iraq that a missile attack was underway. The attack came in response to a Jan. 2 U.S. strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.
Space professionals at Buckley AFB detected the launch and one crew member quickly relayed the information.
“If she had not done her job better than her training, if she had not detected that launch, determined where it was, where it was going and who was under threat and released warning messages that got to the 300 plus Americans at Al Asad Air Base, I’m firmly convinced we’d be talking today about dead Americans,” Thompson said.
In addition to providing early warning, the Space Force keeps constant track of more than 26,000 items in space that potentially can damage of disable satellites that are crucial for defending the United States and allowing everyday activities ranging from GPS to telecommunications to banking and commerce.
Space is not only more crowded, it is becoming a potentially more hostile and contested environment. Russia and China are among a group of countries actively advancing space capabilities. He asked the audience of more than 2,000 active duty Airmen, industry officials and others to help educate the public and explain why a separate Space Force is necessary to defend the United States and its allies.
“We now live in a world where there are threats in space, there are actors who wish to do us harm in space and we need to understand deeply what’s there, who owns it, what it’s capabilities are, what it’s likely to do and whether or not it poses a threat,” Thompson said.
Moreover, the threats are clear, he said. “There are plenty of people who are watching and have been watching for decades and those people live in China and those people live in Russia and those people live in other nations that may at some point in the future seek to do us harm.
“They have been preparing to do two things. The first thing they’ve been preparing to do is to take away our space capabilities. The second thing they are doing is recognizing how powerful space power is as part of a joint force,” he said.