What do "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" have in common? Aside from their respective crazy loyal fan bases, they both borrow heavily from Navy traditions.
In fact, a lot of science fiction does. Captain James T. Kirk commands the Enterprise, a name that has been used to name ships for centuries. Admiral Ackbar, the squid-looking "Star Wars" leader of "It's a trap!" meme fame, was the head of a large fleet of space ships, much like a seaborne Navy leader. Even Master Chief from "Halo" is literally named after one of the U.S. Navy's high enlisted ranks. Check out any space-based sci-fi, and chances are, it borrows from the Navy.
For that reason, Matthew Hipple, co-founder of the Center for International Maritime Security and a currently serving Navy officer, believes the Navy is a natural fit for future military operations in space.
"The model of naval operations with a commanding officer, with different departments, with a crew, with some sort of security detachment," Hipple told Circa. "These are how expeditions are executed. ... The whole crewing concept and the operational mindset of naval officers, especially because they have to fight in multiple warfare areas, is best for space."
That same flexibility is heavily used in "Star Trek," where ship crews might be fighting in epic space battles in one episode and visiting diverse, distant planets in others. Navy leaders have done that for centuries.
It seems to make sense, but there's a problem. The Air Force pretty much dominates U.S. military space operations, and it's fighting hard to keep its hold on the final frontier. Earlier this year, some congressional members pushed for the creation of a standalone space corps that would be separate from other military branches. Top brass in the Air Force immediately pushed back.
"This will make it more complex, add more boxes, and cost more money," Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson argued, regarding future space operations.
Hipple didn't disagree. Instead, he noted the Navy is still a great option. While space operations today are not manned, they likely will be, and the Navy crew concept is ideal for those situations, he argued. The Air Force is good at monitoring all the stuff flying around in the cosmos, and is also pretty good at launching things into the atmosphere, Hipple said, but it is too terrestrially focused.
I really think when you look to the future of space operations it's going to be manned ... eventually we are going to get off this rock, and we are going to go up there," said Hipple. "If you're on a ship, a ship has a crew, it has a standing watch that rotates throughout the day with people sleeping and doing maintenance. For long-range operations in space, or long-term operations ... that requires that sort of manpower… with the Navy, your ship, your piece of equipment, that is your home base."
There's a good bit of historical precedent for putting the Navy into space. Some of the most famous astronauts were in or were part of the Navy. Before he took one giant step for mankind, Neil Armstrong was a naval aviator. Allen Shepard, the first American in space, was a Navy commander. John Glenn, the oldest man to ever go to space, was a Marine.
So when might we see a bold captain exploring the galaxy or an admiral leading a space armada? That's a question for the engineers, according to Hipple. But the Air Force might be able to learn a thing or two from the Navy in the meantime.
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