Those 86 new Space Force lieutenants who graduated at the Air Force Academy Saturday left school early, and they’ll be needed fast.

Russia’s test of an anti-satellite missile last week shows America’s desperate need to defend our assets in orbit. The U.S. has deep reliance on space for combat on the ground, but has left billions of dollars worth of satellites nearly undefended. Since the Cold War, America hasn’t had enemies in space, allowing leaders to launch satellites without concern of enemies reaching them.

It will be the job of those 86 lieutenants to figure out how to defend a region where we can’t station troops. And it’s a place that requires new thinking that a new generation can bring.

New satellites must be built to guard our spacecraft and new weapons must be conceived to target enemies without creating massive clouds of debris that would turn Earth’s orbit into a useless wasteland.

It’s easy for older people to poke fun at young people who were seemingly born with an Xbox controller in their hands. But that videogame experience in youth has never been more useful. They understand how to control things they cannot touch.

That means they’re perfect for maneuvering American satellites from harm’s way — and for controlling the robotic warriors that will suffice for U.S. troops in space.

They and their comrades who will soon join Space Force have a big job. Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and India have the basic technology to take out American satellites in orbit. Those attacks could deprive troops on the ground of the communications and navigation they need to see over the next hill.

It would take the Air Force and Navy back to World War II in terms of their ability to target enemies.

But the biggest impacts could hit on the homefront. America could be blinded to enemy missile attacks, making our cities attractive targets. And without the timing and navigation signals from the Global Positioning System, the internet would stop working, banking and stock trades would halt, and those Amazon packages would quit hitting the porch.

This small group of troops headed to Space Force is the equivalent to the first American sailors who hit the waves aboard frigates including the USS Constitution.

Those sailors first took on pirates and protected civilians from marauders, including the warring European powers. Later, they proved a match with the planet’s greatest seagoing power, Britain.

The Space Force faces growing threats, and a clear outline for countering those threats has yet to emerge.

Keeping space safe for a new generation is going to require new thinking.

And the best brains to come up with those plans are possessed by 86 new lieutenants.

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

Senior Military Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's senior military editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom covers seven military installations in Colorado, including five in the Pikes Peak region. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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