February 09, 2022

How Space is Changing the Nature of War

By Lt Col Gabe S. Arrington

In January, the Air Force Research Laboratory changed the nature of warfare, and most people missed it. The Vanguard Program, led by Gregory Spanjers, Ph.D., awarded $102 million to SpaceX to explore point-to-point rocket cargo delivery. This is the first contract of its kind awarded to a launch provider and signals a historic revolution in the direction of military strategy.

While the thought of rocket cargo delivery may seem novel to most, visionary military strategists have been stressing the importance of this unique capability, link to other emerging technologies, and importance to the nature of warfare for years. In 2016, the Air Force quietly conducted a series of wargames to determine the impact of lowering the cost to access space for Air Force mission sets, publishing “A Rapid Global Effects Capability.” Later, based on these thoughts and findings, the Air Force’s Air University published “The Implications of Lowering the Cost to Access Space on Airpower” and a “Fast Space Strategy” in 2017.

As the nature of warfare changes, the relationship between industry and the DoD is now more important than ever.

The significance of the Vanguard Program with SpaceX is two-fold. First, it signals to industry that the Department of Defense (DoD) is ready to partner with industry at a larger scale with respect to space. Previously content with contracting launch capability to place satellites in orbit, the DoD is now deliberately expanding the use of space-related capabilities to impact other missions. SpaceX’s rocket cargo delivery plans to deploy a C-17’s worth of cargo or personnel anywhere in the world within an hour. The technologies associated with accomplishing this goal are closely associated with other mission sets, such as a without the need for landing. While industry has been developing these technologies for their own goals, such as the dual-use implications of landing a Starship Rocket on Mars, the increase in capital invested by the DoD changes the technology landscape and accelerates development.

Equally as important, the rocket cargo delivery contract also signals the importance of “expanded maneuver in time and space” on the future of warfare, both physically and cognitively, in the new Joint Warfighting Concept. The DoD has long stressed the importance of “kill chains,” or the ability to hold targets at risk to deter aggression and achieve military objectives, if necessary. This term, however, has become overused and encourages a tactical mindset with respect to complicated international relations and strategic challenges. The enhancement of maneuver warfare through rocket cargo delivery implies a greater emphasis on strategic deterrence and discourages aggression worldwide.

Read the full article from The Hill.