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Document created: 1 September 06
Air & Space Power Journal - Fall 2006
CDR John J. Klein, USN
|Editorial Abstract: For the US military, space power has emerged as the dominant strategic framework for executing space warfare. Commander Klein asserts that this framework, inherently offensive in nature and application, is myopic. Contending that the United States has already achieved space supremacy, he argues that a maritime-inspired space strategy will better suit US military purposes by ensuring the defense of celestial lines of communications and enhancing the protection of vital hardware.|
FORCE-ON-FORCE military engagements are the most difficult and dangerous kinds of operations that war fighters will conduct, so strategic planners naturally tend to focus their attention and efforts on them. Traditionally, one includes such engagements within the military’s strategic context of “power,” as with sea power and airpower strategies. Thus, when strategic planners consider military operations from, into, and through space, they frequently think in terms of “space power.” As exemplified by the title of this journal and the fact that space-enabled technologies play a pivotal role within US national security strategy, space power does indeed become an important consideration for the war fighter.
Nevertheless, the moniker space power is an ill-suited strategic context for considering the diverse national interests and activities in space. For many countries—especially the United States—activities in space affect their diplomatic, information, military, and economic interests.1 Consequently, any space strategy should address much more than just military concerns. Today’s prevalent power approach to thinking about space strategy, however, primarily focuses on military affairs, which has resulted in war fighters having a predilection to overemphasize offensive strategy and weapon systems. But by using maritime strategy for inspiration, the strategic planner can properly understand the role of defensive strategy, the necessity of ensuring access to space, the need to disperse assets and systems, and the implications of making space a “barrier” to an adversary.
If the term space power and its strategic context are inadequate, then what is the proper strategic framework for considering space warfare? The answer to this question lies in how our contemporary power-type strategy came about. Many military professionals readily know that the term space power came from a similar application of the term airpower.2 This would seem a reasonable decision since air and space are adjoining environments and share some of the same technical and operational considerations.3 But where did the strategic context of airpower come from?
Many of airpower’s strategic assumptions owe their lineage to sea power as developed by the US Navy, which received the fundamental precepts of sea power from Rear Adm Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840–1914), an American naval officer, historian, and strategist commonly regarded as the most important analyst of sea power. Particularly renowned for his work The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783, Mahan notes that sea power is primarily concerned with war at sea, shipbuilding, commercial shipping, naval bases, and training naval personnel.4 To achieve its strategic ends, sea power calls for fleet-on-fleet engagements against the enemy’s navy in order to achieve a decisive victory through offensive actions. In the end, sea power is a measure of one nation’s ability to use the seas and oceans in defiance of rivals.5
The US Air Force successfully applied a power philosophy to the strategy of air warfare. By advancing the cause of airpower as the most efficient instrument of offensive strategy and the preferred method of strategic deterrence, the Air Force incorporated the same fundamental assumptions the Navy had used prior to and through World War II. According to some historians, the Air Force’s leadership was actually more adept at advocating a power-type strategy than the Navy’s, much to the chagrin of many naval officers of the time.6 Consequently, airpower replaced sea power as the keystone of US national security strategy.7
As exemplified by the Navy’s experience during the first half of the twentieth century, a power-type strategy becomes advantageous when a country attempts to establish dominance among the international community. Nevertheless, once a nation does so in a specified warfare area, such a strategy provides little insight into solving the most pressing future security issues. Although the Navy still holds Mahan in high esteem, his ideas and sea power strategy have minimal applicability in present US maritime strategy.8
Differing from classical sea power strategy, which seeks a decisive fleet-on-fleet battle, the Navy’s present maritime strategy embraces the interrelationship between the land and sea. Because the maritime domain includes the seas and oceans of the world, along with the land adjacent to them, maritime strategy affects a nation’s diplomatic, information, military, and economic instruments of power. Hence, a sound maritime strategy must broadly consider the role of conducting international politics and leadership; promoting economic prosperity; ensuring freedom of navigation; protecting against hostile, terrorist, and criminal acts; promoting peace and security; establishing forward presence; and projecting power.9 Sea power strategy, therefore, is but a subset of maritime strategy.
Remarkably, the maritime considerations listed above are strikingly similar to the diplomatic, information, military, and economic national interests related to space. Since maritime and space activities have similar strategic interests, along with the fact that both mediums encompass distant “bases” or hubs of operations separated along distant lines of communication (LOC), they will share similar strategies.10 Therefore, instead of a power-type strategy owing its lineage to Mahan’s sea power strategy, space strategy would be better served by using a more encompassing maritime strategy as a strategic springboard for considering the complex interactions of space warfare.
One finds the best maritime strategic framework for considering space strategy in the writings of Sir Julian Stafford Corbett (1854–1922), a British theorist and strategist considered by many historians as Great Britain’s greatest maritime strategist. He is renowned for his work Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, published in 1911, which received acclaim for its “fusion of history and strategy” in describing the strategic principles of the maritime domain.11 Even though Corbett writes on many of the same issues as Mahan, Corbett more accurately details the intricacies of maritime strategy since he addresses those areas indirectly affected by naval operations, such as diplomatic and economic concerns.
According to Corbett, the sea has inherent value as a means of communication.12 Because of this, naval warfare seeks to ensure one’s access to and use of sea lines of communication (SLOC) while denying the same to the enemy. One who can successfully do so enjoys all the benefits of operating upon and from the sea and has “command of the sea.”13 By establishing such command, a maritime nation can move freely along SLOCs while minimizing the risk coming from an enemy’s attacks along them. The vital necessity of ensuring one’s access to and use of LOCs places primary importance upon naval vessels that directly support this mission; vessels that do not serve this function—including the battleship—are of secondary importance.
Corbett describes how navies can affect the balance of power between competing nations. By building a superior naval fleet and achieving command of the sea, a nation garners more diplomatic, military, and economic power than nations without a strong navy. In doing so, a maritime nation can better protect its worldwide interests and remain capable of interfering with an adversary’s seaborne commerce and trade. Even minor actions can achieve modest diplomatic and economic results because such efforts against an adversary’s economic trade routes or fleet can affect the balance of wealth and power between rivals.14
Since a maritime nation extensively uses its SLOCs for trade and commerce, it must protect and defend those lines considered most vital. To do this, Corbett argues that naval forces must disperse along expansive LOCs yet be able to concentrate overwhelming force rapidly when needed.15 No matter how much a war plan calls for the close concentration of naval forces, protection of commerce and trade along SLOCs necessitates the dispersal of forces. Thus, a sound maritime strategy places concentration in tension with dispersal at all times.16 Corbett writes, “Such is concentration reasonably understood—not huddled together like a drove of sheep, but distributed with a regard to a common purpose, and linked together by the effectual energy of a single will.”17
One finds Corbett’s most controversial departure from Mahan’s sea power thought in his belief that defensive strategy is just as necessary as offensive strategy. Like the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831), Corbett views offensive strategy as the more “effective” form of war and defensive strategy as the “stronger” form—both of them integral parts of any overarching military strategy.18 Because the defense is the stronger form of warfare, a defensive strategy enables inferior naval forces to achieve notable results, especially when one considers that if those forces undertook offensive operations against a superior foe, they would likely be destroyed. Defensive strategy comes into play when political objectives necessitate preventing the enemy from acquiring something or achieving a political objective.19 Furthermore, defensive strategy involves an attitude of alert expectation that awaits the moment when the enemy exposes himself, making possible a successful counterattack.20 Despite the many advantages of this approach, Corbett was concerned that most naval officers of his day had exalted offensive strategy and actions at the expense of implementing a sound defensive strategy.
Using maritime strategy as a framework for space strategy has benefits, but this approach has weaknesses too. The most readily apparent one is the disparity between the required technologies to operate within the two environments. Despite the sophistication and technological advancement of today’s warships, they generally are not as advanced as most spacecraft. The technological sophistication required to operate from, through, and in space seems more similar to that required to operate in the air—especially aircraft designed to fly at very high speeds and altitudes. Since available technology frequently dictates military tactics, it stands to reason that tactics employed in space should more closely resemble those of air operations rather than maritime operations.21
If maritime operations seem to have little applicability at the tactical level of space warfare, the war fighter might wonder about the utility of a maritime-inspired space strategy. The answer lies in a paradox: at the tactical level of warfare, space activities resemble air activities, but at the strategic level of warfare, space activities resemble maritime activities.22 Regardless of the shortcomings arising from the technological and tactical disparities between space and maritime operations, one can formulate the strategic principles of space warfare without considering the precedent of technology and tactics, which tend to change with the passage of time anyway. This is a good thing since strategic principles—if indeed they are such—should remain timeless.23 So using a maritime strategy as a framework actually increases the likelihood of deriving an enduring strategy of space warfare.
Even though the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic interests in the maritime environment closely resemble those in the space environment, space is not the sea. Despite the strategic-level similarities between maritime and space operations, the aforementioned technological and tactical differences between the two environments necessitate that any space-warfare strategy have a context and lexicon all its own.24 Therefore, a maritime-inspired space strategy simply provides a common language for thinking about military operations from, into, and through space.
Although the power approach to space strategy is prevalent among military planners, one should note that much of a maritime--inspired strategy for space already agrees with contemporary literature on space strategy. As mentioned above, maritime strategic thought suggests that space has inherent value as a means of communication, making it vital to ensure one’s access to and use of space. This thinking is supported by Joint Publication 3‑14, Joint Doctrine for Space Operations, which notes the need to “provide freedom of action in space for friendly forces while, when directed, denying it to an adversary.”25 Consequently, joint doctrine properly emphasizes the need to ensure one’s access to and use of celestial LOCs while minimizing the enemy’s same access and use.26
Additionally, a maritime-inspired space strategy underscores the idea that space operations and activities are closely tied to national interests. This thought is borne out by the fact that much of the US economy and its day-to-day commercial operations rely upon space-enabled systems; furthermore, because space-reliant commerce and trade affect the overall economic well-being of the United States, space is tied to national power. More importantly, the precedent of maritime strategy suggests that any spacefaring nation may protect and defend its interests in space, even with the use of force. Such sentiments are in agreement with the Space Commission Report of 2001, which maintains that because the United States relies upon many space-enabled technologies, it may protect its interests by employing means that “deter and defend” against hostile acts in and from space, including, by implication, the potential use of force.27
Nevertheless, a maritime-inspired space strategy also provides insights not found in the current literature on space strategy. The most profound of them concern the proper role of offensive and defensive strategy. Offensive strategy in space becomes appropriate when political objectives necessitate wresting or acquiring something from the adversary; such operations frequently achieve political goals or establish a military advantage. In light of Clausewitz’s and Corbett’s belief that the offensive is the more effective form of warfare, the stronger space power should usually attempt offensive operations in space.28 A force that takes the offensive and looks for a decisive victory, however, will likely not find it since the enemy’s most vital assets and forces will usually take defensive or other proactive measures when attack is imminent. For this reason, war fighters must exercise caution when deciding in favor of offensive operations; -otherwise, they may throw away space-based systems on “ill-considered offensives.”29
Defensive strategy, on the other hand, comes into play when political objectives necessitate preventing the enemy from achieving or gaining something. Because defensive operations by their very nature are the “stronger” form of warfare, less capable space forces should use them extensively until they can adopt an offensive strategy.30 A truly defensive posture awaits the blow from a position of advantage.31
Although it is often simpler to discuss offensive or defensive strategies separately, they are mutually dependent and so intertwined that ultimately one cannot succeed without the other. For instance, defensive operations protect the very LOCs that make offensive operations possible. Additionally, defensive strategies frequently require fewer forces and assets than do offensive strategies, so defensive operations in some regions facilitate the concentration of military forces or effects to support offensive operations in other regions.
The primary objective of space warfare is to ensure one’s ability to access and use celestial LOCs. In maritime strategy, the cruiser assures such access; in the classical sense, this vessel has sufficient range and endurance to protect distant and dispersed SLOCs. Because maritime and space strategies share similar fundamental concerns, one needs a conceptual equivalent to the naval cruiser to protect and defend interests in space.32
Understandably, the pragmatic war fighter will want to know specifics on how to implement a “space cruiser.” Such specifics lie more in the realm of technology and tactics instead of strategy, but a maritime-inspired space strategy is useless unless it can provide real-world, tactical examples. In order to design and implement a cruiser concept for space, one must realize that its mission involves ensuring access to and use of space. The specific design of this concept depends upon the mission it must perform, not preconceived ideas resulting from an analogy to a seagoing surface vessel. Consequently, implementing a cruiser concept for space necessitates fielding platforms and systems that allow for the self-defense of LOCs, afford redundancy of space-communication services, and protect high-value assets. Technological and tactical examples of such systems include communication satellites designed to employ directed-energy weapons in self-defense when attacked by another space-based system; orbital spares of high-value satellites that provide services in the event of the primary satellite’s loss; hunter-killer microsatellites capable of ramming an adversary’s threatening satellite; or a space-based weapons platform that detects, engages, and destroys an enemy’s antisatellite (ASAT) weapon.33
Yet celestial LOCs presently employ both terrestrial and space assets, as with communication uplinks and downlinks. This observation implies that the space-cruiser concept must include land, sea, and air platforms as well to protect one’s access to and use of space. Consequently, the concept also includes utilization of landline communication networks that act as a redundant communication path to a space-based network, launch vehicles meant to replace a damaged satellite in orbit quickly and responsively, naval vessels capable of launching missiles to destroy an enemy’s ASAT launch vehicle, or an airborne laser that disables a satellite which is jamming orbital communications. As mentioned above, space warfare seeks to access and use celestial LOCs, so regardless of whether the space-cruiser concept utilizes land, sea, air, or space systems to meet this objective, such systems are of the greatest importance in space strategy.
As discerned from maritime strategy, one should generally disperse space-enabled technologies and systems to cover the widest possible region, yet they should maintain the ability to concentrate forces and effects rapidly. Such dispersal can protect a variety of interests while facilitating defensive operations along many different celestial LOCs at once.34 When one needs offensive operations to neutralize a significant threat, these technologies and systems should then concentrate firepower or other desired effects to defeat an adversary quickly. Tactical implementation would include satellites that transmit a directional, low-power jamming signal. Although a single satellite would have only a limited effect in a selected area, a constellation of such satellites acting cooperatively could block an enemy’s celestial LOCs within a wide region of space.35 Similarly, such an implementation would also include a constellation of orbiting weapons platforms capable of deploying -kinetic-energy weapons against one or more terrestrial targets.
As with the space-cruiser concept, this strategy of dispersal and concentration should employ both terrestrial and space-based systems. Therefore, one should use land, sea, and air assets in conjunction with each other to attack and neutralize an enemy’s space assets or communication systems. Examples include land-launched ASAT weapons, sea-launched cruise missiles targeting the enemy’s communication uplinks, and aircraft carrying directed-energy weapons capable of destroying orbiting satellites. Dispersing such systems around the globe and in all environments allows one to engage an enemy’s space-based assets with overwhelming force through multiple means.
Employing a strategy of dispersal and concentration preserves the flexibility of protecting expansive LOCs while allowing engagement of an adversary’s “central mass” when and where needed.36 When attempting to deny the enemy’s use of his celestial LOCs, however, the war fighter must remember that—as with maritime communications—LOCs in space often run parallel to the enemy’s and may even be shared with him. Therefore, one frequently cannot attack an adversary’s space communications without affecting one’s own.
Considering a similar application of command of the sea from maritime strategy, one sees that establishing command of space ensures one’s access to and use of celestial LOCs. Yet space becomes a barrier to those who lack such access and use. A spacefaring nation’s ability to access and use celestial LOCs is paramount; only by doing so can one fully realize the advantages of operating in space. If such access and use is not possible—whether an adversary denies access to celestial LOCs or one’s technological capability proves insufficient to launch space vehicles into orbit—then space effectively becomes an obstacle or a barrier.37 Although such a condition cannot prevent an enemy’s sporadic or minor attacks, establishing command of space and making space a barrier to potential foes allow one to better control the escalation of future hostilities, give better freedom of action for conducting military operations, minimize the effectiveness of an adversary’s counterattack, and provide a significant strategic-deterrence capability.38 All of these measures better protect a nation’s diplomatic, information, military, and economic interests.
The United States currently has supremacy in space and in the employment of space-based technologies, so the power approach to space strategy presently used by many military planners would seem to have served the nation quite well. As a result, the war fighter might question the need to embrace a maritime-inspired space strategy. Nevertheless, space power strategy based upon a classical power approach is ill suited for describing and considering the true nature of military strategy in, from, and through space. The problem with a Mahanian-style power strategy is that despite its usefulness when a country attempts to achieve supremacy in a medium of warfare, after the country has done so, its usefulness to the strategic planner or policy maker becomes minimal. The US Navy long ago abandoned sea power as a stand-alone framework for maritime strategy since Mahan’s sea power strategy focused too narrowly on offensive strategy and the need to seek a decisive battle. Similarly, space power is an inappropriate stand-alone strategy for space.
Furthermore, a maritime-inspired space strategy has highlighted ideas not present in current space power strategy, including the idea that systems which ensure one’s access to and use of celestial LOCs are the most critical concern of space strategy. Consequently, systems that protect and defend LOCs in space have priority over those that do not share this mission—including purely offensive weapon systems that don’t protect and defend celestial LOCs.39 A proper understanding of offensive and defensive strategies reveals that one may use the latter to ensure access to celestial LOCs. Defensive strategies, therefore, that harden space systems against electromagnetic damage, provide self-defense against offensive attack, or incorporate redundant system capabilities are all suitable methods of protecting celestial LOCs while achieving a significant level of command in space. Since defensive strategy is just as important as offensive strategy in any overall war plan, any space strategy that focuses too intently on the application of force or the role of offensive weapon systems is myopic.
Today outer space supports the actions of the military services. To a significant extent, many soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen are already intimately involved with employing space-enabled technologies when they-execute their missions. In effect, we now have space warriors. Because of the inherent limitations of a power-type space strategy, a maritime-inspired strategy can better enlighten these war fighters on the correct strategy for space warfare. Our war fighters demand and deserve the best strategies for considering future military operations, and the best framework for space strategy is based upon centuries of maritime experience. We would do well to acknowledge that fact.
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1. United States Joint Forces Command, Joint Forces Command Glossary, http://www.jfcom.mil/about/glossary.htm. One uses diplomatic, information, military, and economic areas of national power in effects-based operations.
2. Gen Thomas D. White, chief of staff of the Air Force, “Air and Space Are Indivisible,” Air Force 4, no. 3 (March 1958): 40–41.
3. However, many critics have argued against combining air and space strategies, noting that propulsive, aerodynamic, and orbital conditions make air and space quite distinct environments. Maj M. V. Smith, Ten Propositions Regarding Spacepower, Fairchild Paper (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, October 2002), 94–96.
4. See Capt A. T. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1890).
5. E. B. Potter et al., eds., Sea Power: A Naval History (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1960), 19.
6. George W. Baer, One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy, 1890–1990 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994), 276. “The Air Force took over the most popular Navy positions—and turned them against the Navy” (ibid.).
7. “Command of the air replaced command of the sea as the main determinant of national destiny.” Ibid.; and John B. Hattendorf, The Evolution of the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Strategy, 1977–1986, Newport Paper no. 19 (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 2004), 5.
8. The failure of naval officers to understand and appreciate naval history and maritime strategy has been well documented for over 100 years. J. K. Laughton, “The Scientific Study of Naval History,” Journal of the Royal United Services Institute 18 (1875): 508–9; and John B. Hattendorf, “The Uses of Maritime History in and for the Navy,” Naval War College Review 56, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 13–38.
9. The National Strategy for Maritime Security (Washington, DC: [The White House,] September 2005), 1–2, http://www.whitehouse.gov/homeland/4844-nsms.pdf; Adm Mike Mullen, chief of naval operations, “CNO Guidance for 2006: Meeting the Challenge of a New Era,” http://www.navy.mil/features/2006CNOG.pdf (accessed 12 May 2006); Gen J. L. Jones, commandant of the Marine Corps, Marine Corps Strategy 21 (Washington, DC: Department of the Navy, Headquarters US Marine Corps, 3 November 2000), 1, http://www.marines.mil/templateml.nsf/25241abbb036b230852569c4004eff0e/$FILE/strategy.pdf; and Hattendorf, “Uses of Maritime History,” 19.
10. The environment of operations—including the strategic positions within it—affects one’s strategy. Wolfgang Wegener, The Naval Strategy of the World War, trans. Holger H. Herwig (1929; repr., Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1989), 36, 82, and 129.
11. Julian S. Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy (1911; repr., Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1988), xxxvii. Quotation attributed to Lt Alfred Dewar in Pall Mall Gazette, 22 December 1911.
12. Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, 91–93.
13. Ibid., 91.
14. Ibid., 60.
15. Ibid., 132.
16. Ibid., 133.
17. Ibid., 131. Here Corbett paraphrases Mahan’s thoughts.
18. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 97 and 358; and Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, 31–33 and 310–11.
19. Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, 32.
21. Cdr John J. Klein, Space Warfare: Strategy, Principles and Policy (London: Routledge, 2006), 154.
23. Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini shares a similar view: “Principles are unchanging, independent of the kind of weapons, of historical time and of place.” Edward Mead Earle, ed., Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971), 4; and Antoine-Henri de Jomini, The Art of War, trans. O. F. Winship and E. E. McLean (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1854), 17 and 347.
24. Klein, Space Warfare, 21.
25. Joint Publication 3-14, Joint Doctrine for Space Operations, 9 August 2002, x, http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/new_pubs/jp3_14.pdf.
26. Col Peter Zwack, US Army, defined celestial lines of communication (CLOC) while conducting research for the Mahan Scholars Program at the Naval War College in 2003. In this context, celestial means the visible sky and heavens.
27. US Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, Report of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization (Washington, DC: The Commission, 11 January 2001), x (also referred to as the Space Commission Report), http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/space20010111.pdf.
28. Clausewitz, On War, 97 and 358; and Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, 31–33 and 310–11.
29. Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, xxviii. Similarly, Clausewitz warns, “It is a risky business to attack an able opponent in a good position” (emphasis in original). On War, 535.
30. Clausewitz, On War, 97 and 358; and Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, 31–33 and 310–11.
31. Clausewitz, On War, 357 and 404.
32. Klein, Space Warfare, 159.
33. Ibid., 111–13.
34. Ibid., 132–33.
35. Ibid., 113.
36. Ibid., 133. Both Clausewitz and Corbett use the term central mass.
37. Klein, Space Warfare, 100.
38. Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, 60.
39. Corbett believed that ships should be pulled from the battle fleet to control maritime communications even if doing so reduced the fleet to the minimum allowable force. Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, 116–17.
|CDR John J. Klein, USN (BS, Georgia Institute of Technology; MS, Naval Postgraduate School; MA, Naval War College), is assistant air officer (“miniboss”) aboard the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). He has served as maintenance officer, Sea Control Squadron 24 (VS‑24); test and evaluation project officer, Naval Force Aircraft Test Squadron (VX-20); naval flight officer under instruction, US Naval Test Pilot School; tactical development and evaluation officer (VS-24); and maintenance branch officer, Sea Control Squadron 28 (VS‑28). Commander Klein is the author of several journal articles and the book Space Warfare: Strategy, Principles and Policy (London: Routledge, 2006).|
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University
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