Friday, April 10, 2020

Rumbaugh’s Competing Visions of Space

Lyndon B. Johnson, in keeping with the late President Kennedy’s declaration of landing man on the moon before the 1960s were up, opined that “Men who have worked together to reach the stars are not likely to descend together into the depths of war and desolation.” This vision worked well until the end of the Cold War. Perhaps it is unfortunate for the future that we only got as far as the Moon.

In an ideal world, an environment such as space would be a global commons akin to Antarctica. However, even Antarctica is claimed by various states—with some overlapping claims at that. This is not a geopolitical issue because Antarctica is not intrinsically valuable.

We do not live in an ideal world, and space is intrinsically valuable. There will be struggles over its control. Perhaps, there will even be commercialization. So, semper paratus. 

Each of the six competing visions for a space force presents a different future. But, two starkly contrast one another: the keep the plumbing running (KPR) school and the galactic battle fleet (GBF) school. While these are admittedly “tongue-in-cheek” names for the schools of thought, I believe they are an accurate representation. The GBF folks have it right. 

Those in the KPR school are correct to assume that traditional military units will remain important in the short-run. However, the mentality that this will never fundamentally change is myopic. In particular, the belief that “future wars will still be fought principally by brigade combat teams, carrier strike groups, fighter squadrons, and other traditional military units” shows long-term complacency. The belief that whomever had the sharper stick, better steel, more horses, or advantage in any other technological advancement of the day would win wars forever is correct. But, often, those advantages are crafted by pushing boundaries. Simply keeping the plumbing running will not prepare us adequately for the next wars. 

The vision of the GBF school is impressive. Though the technology to achieve these aims is not yet available, it will never be available if it is not sought after. The United States should be innovators. Ironically, the quality of our “plumbing” produces the best chance  for any nation to pursue these goals which are now only science fiction. Aiming for this type of technological advancement improves the overall capability of the military even if we do not end up invading Klendathu. 

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