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National Security: the Space Dimension
Remarks by Gen. Howell M. Estes III, commander, U.S. Space Command, Los Angeles Air Force Association National Symposium, Friday, November 14, 1997

Defense Issues: Volume 12, Number 52-- National Security: the Space Dimension Space power will encompass space superiority, space control, space surveillance missions, information superiority. It will also represent the ultimate in rapid global mobility and global precision attack.


Volume 12, Number 52

National Security: the Space Dimension

Remarks by Gen. Howell M. Estes III, commander, U.S. Space Command, at the Los Angeles Air Force Association National Symposium, Nov. 14, 1997.

The title of my speech this afternoon ... is "The Air Force at a Crossroad." I chose that title because I firmly believe we are at a crossroad. As we meet here today, we are all aware of the important, time-critical decisions that the Air Force will need to make to assure its vitality and relevance into the next century -- decisions about who we are and what we will be in the times ahead. We've had to do this before; this is not new to our Air Force.

From the very first RAND study on artificial Earth satellites entitled, "Preliminary Design of an Experimental World-Circling Spaceship" -- an interesting title -- dated May 2, 1946, as taken from the newly published book "'Beyond Horizons -- A Half Century of Air Force Space Leadership" written by David Spires, ... :

"In making the decision as to whether or not to undertake construction of such a [space] craft now, it is not inappropriate to view our present situation as similar to that in airplanes prior to the flight of the Wright Brothers.

"We can see no more clearly all the utility and implications of spaceships than the Wright brothers could see of fleets of B-29s ... and air transports circling the globe."

Our decisions, made then to provide Air Force leadership in space, have brought us to where we are today. Fifty years of Air Force leadership in space have made the Air Force the undisputed master of U.S. space operations. Yet times are changing, demands are growing, and as we have had to do in the past, we will have to keep pace with the changing times if we are to continue to be the masters of the air and the masters of space.

Today, as we approach yet another crossroad in our 50-year legacy, we, as an Air Force, as an industry and as an Air Force Association need to throttle back just a little bit and consider the alternate routes to our future destination. We must be prepared to make a turn if we deem, in fact, that a turn is the right thing to do.

But we can see more clearly today than we could in 1946 the utility and implications of our decisions on the future. Space to a large extent is an unknown to many throughout our country and to many leaders in our government who are being tasked and asked to make critical decisions that will chart the course of space for the United States both inside and outside the military.

My job this afternoon is to take you on a journey and provide you a view of some alternative routes we can explore together before we get to this crossroad that I have mentioned. So sit back and relax a little bit. Some of you may want to buckle up, as opposed to relaxing, but let's get going here.

We'll begin with a little history. During the American Civil War, an enterprising pilot flew his hot air balloon within view of the enemy lines to get a glimpse of his enemy's force dispositions and the condition. In this act was born the age of aerial surveillance. A few decades later, during World War I, airplanes began to be used for the same purpose. Airplanes could travel faster, farther and were much less vulnerable to ground fire.

And it wasn't much longer after that that adversaries decided they didn't appreciate those prying eyes flying overhead and there was born air-to-air combat.

Of course, the man who fired that first air-to-air shot at another airplane -- at his brother airman! -- was surely considered an highly irreverent fellow. Up to that point -- the first shot -- airmen formed a very tightly knit community and mutually respected one another's rights to the sky. Aggressive action against another airman was unheard of. But such is the way of life, and such is the way of man.

Change is inevitable, and it is not always for the better. What these early leaders quickly discovered was the danger posed by the intelligence-gathering capability of that contraption flying over their head. Often that contraption directed military fire down on them. Once this danger was clearly recognized, the culture of airmen changed almost overnight.

So the story goes, freedom of the skies, like freedom of the seas, like freedom of any kind, went the way of all other freedoms throughout history -- guaranteed only if you are strong enough, smart enough and often quick enough to ward off those who would deny you those freedoms.

Freedom of the skies was deemed unacceptable only a few short years after the very invention of the airplane and has remained militarily unacceptable today.

The surveillance, reconnaissance and communications capabilities of the aircraft were too potent to be ignored and were at once craved and feared by every military establishment on Earth. Every nation wanted the capability for themselves and were anxious to deny it to others, especially in times of crisis. This is true today just as it was then.

But there was a catch when it came to developing and promoting these new airplane capabilities. If you wanted airplanes, you had to train and nurture airmen -- tasks the established infrastructure wasn't fiscally or philosophically prepared for. These new airmen would soon discover the true potential of their chariot. They would soon brook no diminution of that potential. The stage was set for conflict within the U.S. Army officer corps.

The Army's view of the airplane as a supporting cast member left little doubt in the minds of these early airmen where they stood in the hierarchy of command and in the hierarchy of obtaining resources.

During the interwar years, the dearth of funds rendered aircraft safety appalling -- accidents and death were routine. Operational conditions were atrocious.

There were few senior airmen. Many of them were either killed or maimed flying or were passed over for promotion and command in favor of artillery, infantry or newly emerging mechanized officers. Airmen did not command flying units, infantry officers did.

These commanders, though conscientious and capable, did little more than view the airplane as an extension of the Army's ability to fight the infantry or the artillery or the mechanized armor. They did not have the expertise, the vision or incentive to view the airplane in any other way. To discern its awesome offensive striking power or its ability to be decisive in its own right was simply never considered.

They knew what they knew and did what they did in view of their particular core competencies. In effect, if not deed, they stifled the development of the airplane and the realization of it's only glimpsed at potential.

It took nearly four decades before the true potential of airpower was realized in World War II and another 40-plus years before this potential was implemented to what we think was near the fullest imagined extent in Operation Desert Storm.

In all fairness to the U.S. Army of that day, the paucity of dollars available to them during the interwar years severely constrained their modernization efforts -- though one has to wonder, if more money had been available, if it would have made any difference in light of prevailing attitude that infantry was king.

Nonetheless, the dollars that were available were being spent predominately on core U.S. Army functions centered on fighting and winning the land war. This was, of course, the responsible course of action as viewed by the senior leadership of the Army at the time, which, as we have noted, included no airmen. There was no dissenting vote.

Now if all of this is beginning to sound a little bit familiar -- beginning to bear some sense of deja vu -- it should. In my opinion, the Air Force today finds itself in somewhat similar circumstances -- somewhat similar. We're at a crossroad as it shapes the commitment of our air and space forces in the future.

The Air Corps of the 1940s refused to be constrained by the doctrines and dogma of the interwar and postwar Army and began to demand the resources it needed to evolve as a true fighting arm. However, the Army was not prepared to share its shrinking slice of the resource pie with the Air Corps it deemed secondary to its primary core competencies. To do so would have, in the minds of the contemporary Army leadership, diminished the ability to fight and win the land war -- a land war requiring the best armor, artillery, rifles and radios that the Army could buy.

The risk associated with investments in the Air Corps was unacceptable. The Air Corps would have to settle for second best, regardless of its potential. It was the only prudent course of action. After all, land armies are the key to winning wars, aren't they?

Like the Army and the Air Corps of the '40s, the air and space forces of today find themselves, as I said before, in somewhat similar circumstances. Certainly not directly similar, but somewhat similar.

We must remember, however, that the Air Force has assumed the position of leadership and stewardship of the bulk of this nation's military space capability since the dawn of space flight.

Today, we recognize the importance of space and have labeled space superiority as one of our core competencies, but as of yet, we have very little means of ensuring space superiority. We don't even know how to define it yet. But we are working on it. We are working on it.

This is the crossroad in history the Air Force has reached. Truly, it is the crossroad in history that our nation has reached. Our actions regarding space over these next few years will set the course for the next quarter century, and I propose we had better choose carefully.

Decisions we make today will make all the difference in our adaptation to the world's future security environment and the Space and Air Force that our children and grandchildren will inherit.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Robert Frost from his work called the "Road Not Taken.' And I quote,

"I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference."

We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated into taking the easy road for uncertainty's sake -- intimated by our immediate threats and daily operational problems at the expense of our future systems. And I hasten to add there's a balance. And the chief [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael E. Ryan] talked about that this morning. He's exactly right. There's a balance, but we've got to be sure we're paying attention to our future. We must overcome our fear of change and set a course to the future by "taking the road less traveled by."

The future holds an infinite set of possibilities both good and bad. We cannot possibly anticipate or prepare for all of them. So our natural tendency is to:

First, to stick with what we know, what we are comfortable with, what we know has worked in the past.

Second, we attempt to prepare for the worst case we can afford, which in contemporary terms means how many advanced ships, planes, tanks, etc., can we afford?

And third, we merge our experience and interpretation of past events with our assessments of the present so that we get a coherent, reassuring projection for the future.

Now all of this is an entirely natural and healthy approach for human beings to take -- these three things I just mentioned. It's the human tendency towards conservatism. However, we must not become complacent in our conservatism.

Conservative assessments of the future can be as disastrously wrong as overly radical and aggressive ones. We all have seen both extremes. I think it was Winston Churchill who once said, "A young man who has no rebellious tendencies has no passion, and an older man who has no conservative tendencies has no sense."

I'm extremely fortunate to command this nation's three key space commands. In each command, I have young men and women with a tireless passion for space. They can clearly see the potential space represents for the future security of America and the world, and they are committed to realizing that potential.

While encouraged by the rhetoric of the Air Force's Long-Range Plan that speaks of moving from the "Air Force" we know today, to an "Air and Space Force" tomorrow and eventually, to a "Space and Air Force" in the future, their view is somewhat different.

In their minds, the Air Force is now, and has for some time been, an Air and Space Force. They can accept no description less, and, in fact, nor can I. And I suspect neither would the "flyboys" of the early days of the Army Air Corps. I am sure they would agree as well, for our space commands have advocates akin to the "flyboys" of generations past who have dedicated their entire careers to the development and evolution of operations that have tracked from the land and sea to the air -- and now to space.

I am also sure the "flyboys" of old, so instrumental to the development of our Air Force, would support the view that the time for rhetoric has passed and we must replace it with action. We will never become an Air and Space Force if we do not begin to invest greater sums in space.

It is not enough to maintain the given, fixed percentage of Air Force total obligation authority for space. Space must expand and become a larger part of the Air Force budget every year. It has to be this way because it is unlikely anyone is going to give the Air Force a bigger slice of the pie to cover our expansion into space.

We must devote more Air Force science and technology dollars to key space-enabling technologies, that's a foot stomper for me; devote more Air Force dollars to support new satellite program starts; devote more Air Force dollars to building new communications infrastructures connecting all of our forces via space; devote more Air Force dollars for new launch capabilities; and the list goes on.

Now, of course, if your view is that the migration of air dollars to space to create a Space and Air Force will only serve to undermine the critical nature of air to which we are all committed, then there is a very realistic path we could go down.

The Air Force can choose not to step up to the plate on the conflicting demands between air forces and space forces. The Air Force can choose to relinquish its leadership of space in favor of another organization, perhaps a new organization, that will lead our nation into space.

But, ladies and gentlemen, this is not what we decided to do as an Air Force. We claim space as an Air Force domain. We are planning the migration of air and space missions, where affordable and technologically feasible. And we say we are evolving toward becoming a Space and Air Force because space power and airpower are inextricably linked as components of the vertical dimension of warfare. Don't ever forget that.

The biggest mistake we can make today is to impede our development as a Space and Air Force. We must all work together to reconcile our dreams and our visions for the future, young and old, government and industry, science and education to arrive at the most actionable and doable parts of our shared vision and to bring these to reality. It is time for action and not rhetoric.

Some actions have already been taken. The chief mentioned a number of them this morning. The recent air staff reorganization has injected space expertise into key staff and operations positions as another important step towards integration of air and space.

We've also so far managed to maintain funding for some of our largest space programs -- under severe budget pressures as we heard earlier this morning -- such as the Space-based Infrared System, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, the Milstar satellite communications system, the Global Positioning System and so forth.

We've managed this with the full support of our Air Force leadership in the face of huge "shooter" procurements like the F-22, the B-2, the joint strike fighter and the airborne laser. But we've also lost some ground in key areas that are important to the future of space.

We need to restore funding to modernization of the launch ranges -- very important not just to the Air Force, but to our country. These are eventually, in my opinion, going to become national space ports. It will be a while, but they're eventually going to be that. So it's not just important to the Air Force.

We need to maintain funding on the low segment of the Space-based Infrared System to enable effective theater missile defense systems.

We need to develop real-time, full-coverage, near-Earth space surveillance capabilities to enable our initial steps to do space control -- a mission that I have today as a CinC [commander in chief] -- as directed by our civilian leadership.

We need to develop a real-time, space-based Earth surveillance system to provide the "dominant battlefield awareness" so essential to our achieving the capabilities set forth in [Army] Gen. [John M.] Shalikashvili's [former chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff] Joint Vision 2010. I say his, but we've all embraced it now as the military's joint vision for the future.

We need to leverage the advances made by civil and commercial space to help us respond to developing situations and threats faster. This we are already beginning to do through our successful partnerships with the NRO [National Reconnaissance Office], NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], NASA and, most importantly, industry.

All of this attests to the limitless potential of space.

But this potential will never be realized unless we begin as an Air Force to change our culture to fully accept the responsibility for the role of space and its importance to the future national security interests of our country. This has been a problem in the past, we've never really embraced space in the Air Force. That's the crossroad.

Leon Martel, in his book written in 1987 called "Mastering Change, the Key to Business Success," describes three common pitfalls keeping us from recognizing and using change.

First, Martel says we often believe that yesterday's solutions will solve today's problems. Second, we assume present trends will continue. And third, we neglect opportunities offered by future change.

These concepts are all intangible. They are difficult things to wrap our arms around. Yet these intangibles dictate that our first, immediate challenge must be to adapt our Air Force culture to come to grips with the ever-changing nature of war and its implications for our ever-expanding use of space as an equal and vital member of the joint air, land, sea and space warfighting team.

Our second immediate challenge must be to act on this understanding so that we can begin to seriously consider changing the status quo.

As the great air power theorist Giulio Douhet is so often quoted, "Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war and not those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur."

Well, as I mentioned earlier, the character of war -- the nature of war -- is changing, and I'm not completely convinced we've yet grasped the true nature and true character of these changes, especially in the cumulative sense.

As we consider the future direction of our National Military Strategy, our Air and Space Force role in that strategy and the implementation of the new American way of warfighting, we rightly come to the conclusion that air and space power are pivotal to our future success on the battlefield. There is no debate about this at any level in the United States Air Force, the United States Army or Navy, nor in the DoD, or in the U.S. Congress. Why?

Simply, the chairman's Joint Vision 2010 cannot be implemented without space forces linking all the members of the joint team together and serving as the joint team's eyes and ears in our adversary's camp.

Nor can Joint Vision 2010 be implemented without the other decisive core competencies that the Air Force has -- air superiority, rapid global mobility, precision strike, global attack, agile combat support, and information superiority -- all of these, in turn, inextricably linked and dependent on space systems.

However, as pressure continues to be applied on our defense budget, I predict the Air Force will have difficulty implementing all seven of these core competencies to the level of effectiveness and efficiency they demand. There will have to be some internal adjustments barring the injection of some unknown external source of assistance.

These adjustments then, if they are made in the best interest of our quest for military superiority, surely must be made with the objective of revolutionizing our ability to gather, process, interpret and act on information. Air Force leaders in the recent past, and I'm talking about Gen. Ron [Ronald R.] Fogleman [former chief of staff of the Air Force] here, said we must be able to "find, fix, track, target and engage anything of military significance on the earth."

I agree. But you can't kill something if you can't see it. America continues to field the best weapons systems on Earth and continues to advance the art of war for the purpose of securing our freedoms.

However, our ability to assure this success in the future is becoming more and more dependent on the capabilities of our information infrastructure -- and we talked about that this morning.

In this time of limited budgets we don't have the money to continue with business as usual.

The new national imperative is to balance the national budget by 2002, as you all know, and to begin the process of paying off the debt we have incurred primarily over the last two decades. Defense budgets are going to remain tight.

Because of this, hard choices need to be made between investments in information infrastructure or the combat systems. This is an extreme dilemma because combat systems without timely, relevant information are almost useless. On the other hand, you can't take out an enemy tank with just information.

We need to strike a balance between "shooters" and "information systems" if we are going to be successful in the future. Though I believe we must lean more in favor of finding ways to effectively use these new, rapidly expanding information systems for awhile.

I believe this for many reasons, but none is more simple than the fact that timely information, correctly crossqueued, fused, and disseminated, can allow us to more effectively shape, prepare and respond on behalf of our country to changing circumstances in peace, crisis and war.

Clearly, information alone is not enough. We had plenty of warning of Saddam's [Hussein] buildup on the Kuwaiti border, but we completely misread his intentions. This was in direct opposition to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, which we didn't see coming at all.

Of more contemporary relevance is the successful conclusion of 50 years of Cold War and the role timely and accurate information played in assuring its successful conclusion.

The simple fact that the then Soviet Union knew of our ability to detect their missile launches from space and our ability to quickly retaliate in kind if attacked kept the threat of nuclear warfare at bay for five decades.

As the threats to our nation and our way of life continue to diversify and expand, the deterrent value of information will continue to increase exponentially, in my opinion. When this information is backed by a credible threat of force and a will to use it, we are in the best position to protect and defend our nation and our way of life.

As a result, some of our would-be adversaries are doing all they can do to limit our access to information on their internal affairs. You can think of excellent examples of nations attempting to stem the tide of information flow about themselves from the external world and about the external world from their own populations.

I have little doubt in the age of information that their efforts will fail in the end. As we approach the crossroad, we must take note and embrace the new age of information and the changing nature of war. We must accept space's role in this age and plan for its success.

The Air Force and other government agencies, industry and the citizenry of America are beginning to clearly see the potential represented by space.

The commercial and civil space sectors, and our foreign space competitors are already pushing hard, and there will be no limit to what they develop in the years to come. This fact is of great importance to the United States Air Force. America's civil and commercial developments in space will one day need protection.

As a result, U.S. and Air Force Space Commands are developing plans to fulfill Joint Vision 2010 that are key to the protection our vastly expanding economic investment in commercial space, key toward ensuring the viability of America's future national security interests. In the decades to come, space power -- space power -- will accomplish many of the same functions that airpower accomplishes today.

Space power will encompass space superiority, space control, space surveillance missions, information superiority, and the list goes on. I envision a day when space power will also represent the ultimate in rapid global mobility and global precision attack.

Though these capabilities are obviously some time away, the vision is in place and the plans are being laid to provide our civilian leadership with credible options should the need arise.

Some day in the not-so-distant future space will have evolved to the point where the movement of terrestrial forces will be accomplished only at the pleasure of space forces much the same way that the movement of land and sea forces today can only be accomplished at the pleasure of air forces.

Future battlefields will be made transparent by space surveillance systems augmented by air, land and sea surveillance systems.

This transparency will lay bare the hostile intentions of potential adversaries. This transparency will intimidate and hopefully deter our adversaries and if not, will serve our combined air, land, sea and space forces well in carrying out the direction of our national leaders in defense of our vital national interests.

As our Air Force approaches the crossroad, we should keep in mind the wisdom of [Niccolo] Machiavelli when he wrote in his book "The Prince" nearly 500 years ago, ... :

"One should bear in mind that there is nothing more difficult to execute, nor more dubious of success ... than to introduce a new system of things: for he who introduces it has all those who profit from the old system as his enemies, and he has only lukewarm allies in all those who might profit from the new system." ... .

Ironically, there is very little debate throughout the government, civil and commercial sectors regarding the fundamental importance of military space operations.

However, space operations do represent a new system of things, and for that very reason alone people will be cautious and hesitant at making bold moves into space, especially when doing so displaces systems with proven track records.

All I can say is let's get on with it. Our Air Force was built by visionaries who recognized the critical nature of airpower.

In my opinion, our Air Force is still blessed with leaders who demonstrate the same foresight, perseverance, courage and all the other qualities demonstrated by the visionaries who helped shape our Air Force -- [first five-star General of the U.S. Army Air Forces Henry H.] "Hap" Arnold, [Gen. Carl] "Tooey" Spaatz [last commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces and first Air Force chief of staff], [former Maj. Gen.] Billy Mitchell [former assistant to the chief of the Air Services], [Gen.] Hoyt Vandenberg [former Air Force chief of staff], [Gen.] Curt LeMay [former Air Force chief of staff], [Gen.] Bernie [Bernard A.] Schriever [former commander of the Air Force Systems Command] -- it's in our blood.

We must be the visionaries that recognize the critical nature of space and its importance to our armed forces in adapting to the changing nature of war contemplated in Joint Vision 2010 and most importantly to meeting our future security interests as a nation.

Walt Whitman, in his poem "The Song of the Open Road," wrote:

"Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leads wherever I choose."

Let us begin to choose the road to space to better serve our nation's future and those that will follow us.


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at