What Service Should Manage Spaceships?

Welcome everyone. You know Momus News as a bastion of humor, whimsy, and general silliness. But today I want to ask the question, “What service should manage spaceships?”

I read a lot of science fiction books about spaceships, especially those in combat. While reading these books, I note many of them include military ranks that don’t belong aboard a ship, like “Colonel.” Yes – I’m looking at YOU, Battlestar Galactica. This suggests to me that when the author needed military ranks they looked up the ones they were most familiar with and that ended up being the Air Force or the Army. In one particular book, the author dealt with this concern directly. An Army soldier stumbled into commanding a spaceship and, being the only  human ever commanding a starship, ended up maintaining the command while the US Army became responsible for spaceships.


Well okay, I really did like the book. It was well-written with a great plot and pacing. Still, the notion of the Army in charge of spaceships bugs the hell out me. It is anathema. This book and others like it were part of the inspiration for me to write “The Huralon Incident.” In it, ships don’t have walls, they have bulkheads. There are no floors, only decks. No ship under my watch turns left or right, they turn to port or starboard. Why did I do it that way? Because it’s a bloomin’ SHIP, not a taxi.

Author’s shameless self-promotion.

All right, E.A., aren’t you just a bit biased because you came from a Navy family, studied the Navy all your life, and actually served in the Navy? Well, yes, that’s true and I’ll admit to a certain amount of bias. But there’s logic to the argument as well. The US Navy is 244 years old this year and it inherited many of its traditions from the far older British Royal Navy. This amounts to centuries of experience in controlling a vehicle, in a hostile environment, far from any source of support. “But,” you might say, “the ocean is water. Water won’t kill you.”

Really? How long can you tread water in fifteen-foot seas?

The sea is very hostile to human life. You can’t drink salt water for long before it kills you. Honestly, you can’t expect to live more than a couple days, if that much, without a flotation device. And speaking of that, is the Air Force expert at managing small boats like life craft? Don’t think so, but the Navy is. What if your SHIP is damaged and you must evacuate: who is most expert in keeping crewmen alive in a hostile environment after evacuating a SHIP? The Navy. To be clear, if you are thrown clear of your spaceship without a space helmet, this is what it looks like:

If an Air Force pilot’s aircraft is damaged, this is what it looks like after he ejects.

Ah, the good life!








The Navy knows how to deal with operating a hostile (as in harmful to human life-irrespective of battle conditions) environment, the Air Force and Army, less so. So that’s my angle on it. What do you think. Let me know in the comments.

About EagleAye

I like looking at the serious subjects in the news and seeking the lighter side of the issue. I love satire and spoofs. I see the ridiculous side of things all the time, and my goal is to share that light-hearted view.
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7 Responses to What Service Should Manage Spaceships?

  1. I’d definitely lean towards the ‘Navy’ metaphor in sci-fi (with relevant ranks) too – because, as you say, stories are usually dealing with spaceSHIPS, often with large crews, with all that goes with it. The naval model is a lot more transferable into that than an Air Force structure. And yet, curiously, many of the real-world attempts to militarise space have sprung from air forces – look at the USAF’s Dyna Soar and MOL programmes of the 1960s. Maybe there is a dynamic at work – in the sci-fi world, concepts evolve as space-going tech develops, starting off as an extension of an air force (when spacecraft were essentially small ‘capsules’ or winged shuttles) and mutating into a ‘space force’ built around the naval metaphor as the ships grew? In a sense it’s open to whatever the author feels most credible – Heinlein took the US Navy as his base but mixed in the West Point ‘academic’ feel in ‘Space Cadet’. But for me, the naval metaphor (maybe with a few twists to pique interest) is really the way to go.

    Incidentally, I always thought the reimagined ‘Battlestar Galactica’ was curious. The up-front metaphor was modern navy, especially naval aviation, the ranking nomenclature seemed to come from the army (a bit), but I got the impression the underlying metaphor for the battlestar itself wasn’t a modern warship (battleship/carrier hybrid) but a wooden-wall era line ship. You know, the battlestars had dozens of guns as their main armament, were partially self-sufficient, and often fought at very short range – according to canon, to prevent being nuked by the Cylon base ships. But the effect was pretty much like the old line-of-battle-ships. Interesting mix.

    Liked by 1 person

    • EagleAye says:

      Right. The current US ICBM is managed by the Air Force. The missiles do exit the atmosphere, but I think it kinda makes sense for the AF to run the program. ICBMs require a substantial ground-based installation, and the AF definitely knows how to handle that. But when we move towards a permanent presence in space with with crewed vehicles, a Navy structure and traditions are the best way to handle it. When it comes to Space Cadet, I suspect Heinlein went with the military structure he knew best, but that’s only a guess. I wonder if anyone knows for certain.

      And when it comes to Battlestar Galactica, I thought the new one was very well done. The original was oriented too much towards kids. This new one was edgier and grittier. I really had the sense of a carrier battle, with both sides sending out search craft looking for each other. But like you, I thought those guns were odd. Moving in close in a space engagement seems like suicide to me. But then David Weber also took on the old windjammer motif as well, where the ships literally fired broadsides. I love the books, but thought it was silly that missile ports on the other side of the ship couldn’t fire because they weren’t pointing directly at the enemy. What? Current VLS systems don’t need to be pointing at the enemy now!


  2. List of X says:

    I would think that it has to be an entirely new service – and hey, our president has, in fact, ordered a Space Force in between tweeting and golfing!
    However, if an existing service has to be a model, I think the Airforce will have a better handle on running the space force: the Navy operates in a 2D environment with relatively low speeds, they don’t generally have to wear any kind of protective suits, and, honestly, the Airforce environment is actually way more dangerous than the Navy’s: yes, you might thread water for an hour or so, and one can survive in the air, but only until they smash into the ground from the thousands of feet up in a minute or so. It’s not that bad if the ejection system works – but only if it does, which is not a guarantee in a fight. And if it does, that’s basically an equivalent of a sailor escaping a sinking ship on a lifeboat, and in either case survival mainly depends on how quickly your guys can find you.
    Navy does have an immense advantage in that they are the only ones with experience in running a huge and complicated pieces of machinery requiring hundreds or thousands of people to run. However, as long range anti-ship missiles get more and more effective, the big Navy ships are going to be less and less useful – why bother building a 10 billion dollar ship if it can be sunk by a million dollar missile? – so there’s a possibility that by the time of the true space era, the era of big Navy ships could be over.

    Liked by 1 person

    • EagleAye says:

      Hey, I meant to get back to you sooner. Sorry for the delay. Yes, you, and I, and Matthew agree that an existing structure should run the Space Force, or whatever follows it. As it stands now, I don’t think we need a Space Force because the Air Force is already handling that pretty well from my viewpoint, but that’s another discussion. Going forward, I cannot agree that the Air Force should operate large vessels in hostile environments like a vacuum. Yes a pilot ejecting might have the system fail, but most of the time it doesn’t involve hundreds or thousands of guys. And it when it does work they parachute to the ground in atmosphere they can breathe. Anyone jumping off a ship, anyone, is in a deadly environment. I find it interesting that you mention big Navy ships becoming less useful. I posted a question to Quora asking much longer that super carriers will be useful. I got a pretty hostile response. For me, I’m thinking within the next 30 years, supercarriers will become increasingly vulnerable to hypersonic weapons, like the ones China is already deploying. A 10 billion dollar carrier, it seems to me, may become easy prey to 500,000 missiles. So it takes 100 of them to get a hit. They only need to win once. The carrier needs to win hundreds of times. And how long can that last?


      • List of X says:

        You are still comparing jumping out of a ship into the sea with no flotation device at all to jumping out of an airplane into the air with a parachute, rather tha. That’s not even apples and oranges, it’s more like apples and bricks. 🙂
        And since we agree that supercarriers and other large warships would become less and less useful (because it takes a much smaller missile – or a few – to disable a large ship), wouldn’t the same dynamic be at play for space warships? Meaning, when small military spaceships have the firepower to destroy much larger ships, the military spaceships will tend to get smaller and cheaper – the only reasons for larger ships to exist would be if they can defend themselves much better, or travel much farther, than smaller ones.
        Big ships made a lot of sense 200 or 100 years ago, when a cannonball or an artillery round (or a few) wouldn’t nearly be enough to sink a bigger (and better armored) big ship, while the big ship, carrying more and bigger guns, would find it much easier to destroy a smaller and not as well-protected opponent, (or a few). But put a couple of ship-busting missiles on a bunch of small torpedo boats, and the biggest and baddest ship won’t with this battle, probably.

        Liked by 1 person

      • EagleAye says:

        Part of the reason I believe that the time of the supercarrier is reaching it’s twilight is because supercarriers are primarily a means of power projection, not only that they are vulnerable to it. A supercarrier is great, but you’ll need a couple tyco-class cruisers and and a couple Arliegh Burkes as well just to provide air-defense. The cost of your supercarrier skyrockets because you need even more high-tech, highly expensive ships just to protect it. Many tens of billions just to run a supercarrier, when, with orbital Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (DARPA has proposed) you can achieve the same power projection with far less money and far less monetary risk. China will get these eventually as well. Sooooo, the days of the supercarrier will soon end. In space, you have a new dynamic. How this will play out, I can only speculate. Large missile boats may still exist but they may also require substantial missile-defense ships in support. It all depends on how effective missile defense targeting systems work. I think they will get very, very, very good. And that will make small ships less moot than the missiles used to attack larger ships. In my book, as you have read, there are no small manned ships attacking larger ships because those large ships are good at killing something far smaller and more maneuverable than the manned vessels (missiles). Who knows how this will play out? I think we won’t see Mirages engaging the Sussex with Exocets anymore. Such aircraft won’t survive long enough to fire. But that’s just my theory.


  3. Lyn says:

    We owe a lot to the navy in various forms. Without the navy, neither America or Australia would have been discovered. My grandfather was a shipwright and arrived in Australia from Finland in 1879 on the “South Carolina.” My son is a Chief Petty Officer and my granddaughter also joined the navy as a chef. Me? Well, I was seasick on a small diesel glass bottomed boat on a Great Barrier Reef tour :/
    Looking forward to reading your new book at the weekend, Eric 😀


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