THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The newly formed U.S. Space Force is deploying troops to a vast new frontier: the Arabian Peninsula. Space Force has a squadron of 20 Airmen stationed at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base in its first foreign deployment.
The force represents the sixth branch of the U.S. military and the first new military service since the creation of the Air Force in 1947.
Future wars may be waged in space, but the Arabian Desert already saw what military experts dub the world’s first space war — the 1991 Desert Storm operation to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Today, the U.S. faces new threats in the region from Iran’s missile program and efforts to jam, hack and blind satellites.
“We’re starting to see other nations that are extremely aggressive in preparing to extend conflict into space,” Col. Todd Benson, director of Space Force troops at Al Udeid, said. “We have to be able to compete and defend and protect all of our national interests.”
In a September 2020 swearing-in ceremony at Al Udeid, pictured, 20 Air Force Airmen entered Space Force, with several more expected to join the unit of space operators who run satellites, track enemy maneuvers and try to avert conflicts in space.
Concerns over the weaponization of outer space are decades old. As space becomes increasingly contested, however, military experts have cited the need for a space corps devoted to defending U.S. interests. Threats from global competitors have grown since the Persian Gulf War in 1991, when the U.S. military first relied on GPS coordinates to tell troops where they were in the desert as they pushed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait.
Benson did not name the nations his Airmen will monitor, but the decision to deploy Space Force personnel at Al Udeid followed months of escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
Hostilities between the countries came to a head in January 2020 when U.S. forces killed a top Iranian general. Iran responded by launching ballistic missiles at U.S. Soldiers in Iraq.