By Joe Ragonese
At the brink of World War II, the combat arms of the U.S. Army consisted of the infantry, artillery, cavalry, tank corps and air corps. Each branch was a part of the greater Army, with a single line of logistics, acquisitions, planning, and development; which was determined by the commanding generals in the War Department.
Some were cavalrymen, and did everything they could to insure that branch received its share of the pie, some infantry, some artillery; however, very few were armor or air corps. Those two branches suffered because of the fact that they were new and largely unproven in the greater scope of Army planning.
The air corps, in particular, suffered the worse. While armor was largely an extension of cavalry, its use was understood and appreciated, while the air corps was thought of basically as a supporting branch of the infantry. Due to that perception, in 1938 the Army Air Corps weapons systems were primarily with the B-18, a twin-engine medium bomber meant to support ground forces, and the P-36 fighter airplanes, designed for air superiority and ground support.
The thought process of most generals was that the air arm was not going to change the battlefield dynamic. In September 1939, the German Army invaded Poland, using a new method of warfare that began with air, armor, and artillery, followed by mechanized infantry. It was an entirely new concept in ground warfare, called Blitzkrieg.
It changed the minds of many of the Army’s top brass about the viability of airpower, and most importantly, President Roosevelt’s, who intervened on behalf of the air arm. Plans to modernize the Army Air Corps went into high gear, just in the nick of time, over the objections of many senior Army officers. By 1938, the P-36 was obsolete, and the upcoming replacements, still in development, were obsolete before they were delivered.
None the less, the slowly developing B-17 and its backup, the B-24, as well as the B-25 and its backup, the B-26, were expedited, along with the P-38, P-39 and P-40 fighter/bombers. All of these weapon systems were new, barely tested, and placed in combat commands, in limited numbers, only a few months prior to Japan’s attack on Hawaii.
Even though the modern fighters were online, the first Japanese airplanes destroyed by American forces during the attack on Hawaii on December 7, 1941, were shot down by outdated Army P-36s, which still outnumbered all other fighters in the Pacific Command. Most of the rest were destroyed, on the ground, by Japanese forces in attacks on Hawaii, the Philippines, Wake Island and Guam, and replaced with the more modern aircraft.
A large part of the delay in acquiring the modern weapons was due to Army middle managers, who still favored supplying their branch over the new, and small, air corps. Development took a back seat to ground weapons systems and the Army Air Corps, had to fight for every system tooth and nail against the established combat arms.
With war inevitable, planners took the step, over considerable argument from senior Army leaders, that would win World War II; it separated the air corps into an autonomous branch of the Army, much like the Marine Corps is to the Navy; and renamed it the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) on June 20, 1941. That single action put into motion Air Force planning, with both strategic and tactical weapons that could accomplish the greater mission of this service, and allowed it to procure supplies directly.
That procurement led to development of the B-29, the only bomber capable of delivering the atomic bombs that ended the war. Had it still been a combat arm of the Army, development would have been delayed in favor of infantry friendly weapons, along the line of German dive bombers who, in 1942, were causing havoc on the battlefield.
Once the Army Air Forces had been established, its leaders, who were knowledgeable in air combat, took charge. Without being hampered by ground force planners, the Air Forces developed the Bomber Command into a force that took on the Japanese, German and Italian infrastructure; including development of the B-29, mentioned above.
The Air Forces also developed air superiority aircraft that provided bomber protection and control of the air, like the P-51, and night-fighters like the P-61. That control of the air was the key that led to the success of the Normandy invasion, which ended the European war.
None of this would have been possible had it remained a combat arm of the Army. (For those Navy people, Naval Air was already a semi-autonomous service, with its own uniforms, they wore green. They developed aircraft to perform the mission assigned a naval air squadron with little interference from blue water sailors.)
This history is important because the U.S. Congress has introduced legislation creating the United States Space Corps, a semi-autonomous branch of the U.S. Air Force. Like the old Army Air Forces, this new Space Corps would guide its own destiny, formulated by the best ideas from those now serving in the Air Force Space Command.
Representative Mike Rogers (R-AL), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said, “Due to the threats in space and problems with the current organization of space within the DOD, and its space capability acquisition system, the time for study is over,” as he addressed opposition from Rep. Mike Turner, (R-Ohio) in creating this service. “We must fix these problems now, and we believe that the Space Corps is that fix. The status quo and further delay are indefensible,” Rogers concluded.
The bill to create a Space Corps passed the full House, and now must be accepted by the Senate. There are many skeptics among politicians and military leaders. Both the Secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson and General David Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, disagree with the need for this new service, and do not wish to separate the Space Command from Air Force control.
President Trump has not stated his preference for or against; however, with full knowledge of the perils facing us in space, and the necessity to protect our military and civilian assets in outer space, this writer believes the answer is simple. The Space Corps must become a reality and as soon as possible.
The new corps would be responsible for the protection of our space assets, as well as maintenance, much like the Coast Guard’s responsibilities regarding waterway navigational aids. Specialized equipment and weapons must be developed and procured to fulfill those responsibilities. New methods and training must be developed in order to carry out that mission, which is often at variance with Air Force procedures.
The U.S. Navy also has a space command, which should be incorporated into the new Space Corps, and operational control of NASA should also become a part of the overall service. None of this will proceed quickly if the service remains a part of the Air Force; whose mission is different than that of the proposed Space Corps.
Cyber warfare is another area that the Space Corps should take charge of. Protecting and projecting cyberspace is vital to our national interest, and so far, the task of taking command of it has fallen to a variety of different agencies, none coordinated and none very successful. Space Command is the exact place for these computer warriors to hang their hats.
While none of these tasks are glamorous, and none hazardous to masses of space troopers, the undertakings are vital to maintaining our military and national security.
The lessons of history are important because had the Army Air Corps continued to be a subservient organization under the control of the Army, World War II would have lasted several years longer and at a cost in lives that would have been unacceptable. Due to the Air Force becoming a separate branch, it was able to assess its future mission and develop the Strategic Air Command, which held the Soviet Union at bay for over 50 years. Now is the time for the U.S. Space Corps to do likewise.
Both Russia and China already have an independent Space Corps, and China’s has been very aggressive developing anti-satellite missile systems and has successfully launched a space trooper into outer space. The old prohibitions on militarizing outer space are long gone now that it is so vital to our warfighting capabilities on earth. In fact, the next Pearl Harbor, and the start of WWIII, could very well be in outer space.
As far as cyber warfare, even North Korea has a more aggressive cyber warfare capability than we do. We don’t want to be playing catch up after we lose GPS, satellite communications, or command and control from outer space, or our have our electrical grids hacked because of cyber warfare, due to our enemies space and cyber superiority.
We need to create a Space Corps, and as soon as possible. The fate of our nation depends on it.