“Space: The final frontier” soon may have new meaning in military circles. The Space Force — or an independent Space Corps — may be on a trajectory to become the sixth military service.
President Donald Trump first floated the idea of a Space Force in March 2018 when addressing service members at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. A few months later, he directed the Department of Defense and Pentagon to “immediately begin the process to establish the Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.”
“We’re going to have the Air Force and we’re going to have the Space Force,” Trump said. “Separate but equal.”
Despite some resistance on both sides of the aisle, the proposal has gained traction in Congress.
The Senate included funding for a multi-year rollout of a separate military service for space in its FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act, while the House version of the NDAA was amended to create a Space Corps led by a four-star commandant who would be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But the final name, form and funding for a military branch for space won’t be known until a conference committee finalizes the defense bill this summer.
Rep. Mike Rogers, who helped push through the Space Corps amendment, remains convinced the United States must rethink how the military manages and grows its space-based capabilities.
“With the very real and serious threats posed by countries like China and Russia in space, the United States has to step up to keep from being completely outpaced,” Rogers said in an emailed statement. “The future of warfare will be fought in space with new technology and military satellites. I believe creating a separate Space Force is the only way to fully complete this mission.”
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Thomas Taverney, past vice commander of Air Force Space Command, suggests history provides lessons why a space-based service is needed.
“It is good to have someone with the budget authority that goes to sleep at night and wakes up in the morning and thinks only about the space mission,” Taverney said. “This happened back when the Air Force separated from the Army. People who were experts in the air mission wanted to have control of their own medium. It ended up pretty well.”
Taverney maintains Air Force leaders are fully qualified to support the space mission, but are hamstrung by competing priorities.
“When you have a huge amount on your plate, you tend to have to react to the day’s problems rather than sitting down and thinking about tomorrow’s problems,” he states. “While they have the capability to be good, quality space logisticians, and they are, they don’t have the time to focus on only space.”
Under the Senate plan, the DOD would receive $72.4 million to stand up a Space Force within the Air Force, creating a relationship similar to the Marine Corps’ placement inside the Department of the Navy. Initially, only Air Force personnel currently serving in space-related billets would transfer into the new service branch. Military and civilian personnel levels would not be increased.
The head of the Air Force Space Command — currently Gen. John Raymond — would be re-designated as Space Force commander. In the first year, Raymond would report to the Air Force chief of staff but would not routinely attend Joint Chiefs of Staff sessions. In subsequent years, the Space Force commander would report directly to the Secretary of the Air Force and would be elevated to a permanent place on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The commander of U.S. Space Command would become a separate four-star billet.
“Our adversaries have Space Forces — we are behind,” the executive summary of the Senate bill states. “This new force will focus on cultivating a space war-fighting ethos, unify command of space operations and activities, and improve acquisition policies for space programs and systems.”
Since Raymond has been nominated to become the commander of the newly reestablished U.S. Space Command, he would be dual-hatted in the Space Force’s inaugural year. Trump last year authorized the DOD to reestablish USSPACECOM as a combatant command in order to better organize and advance the military’s operations in space.
Defense analyst Todd Harrison, director for Center for Strategic and International Studies, supports creating an independent Space Force, which he maintains would be beneficial to currently serving military personnel.
“This would be a net positive for people who already work in space-related jobs because now they’re going to have much more opportunity for advancement within their field,” he said. “There will be more opportunities at promotion boards. They will be competing against other Space Force officers [and enlisted personnel].”
However, Harrison cautions non-space personnel assigned to space-related billets to keep careful tabs on what happens next.
“If you happen to be one of those history majors or fighter pilots temporarily assigned to a space job, you may not want to transfer over to the Space Force because you may want to go back to doing something not space-related,” he said. “It might be a bit risky. They might get swept up in this. [The DOD] has not come out with any indication of how they are going to let people either opt-in or opt-out of transitioning to the new service.”
In May, the Congressional Budget Office estimated creating a new service within the Department of the Air Force would require 4,100 to 6,800 personnel and increase annual costs by $820 million to $1.3 billion, far exceeding the DOD’s $500 million target.
Harrison argues the CBO overinflated the Space Force’s cost.
“The cost depends on how many people you put in headquarters and management activities,” Harrison said. “You could do it at not much cost — what the DOD has estimated — with a pretty efficient headquarters staff or you could make it big and bloated like all the other service headquarters’ staffs. Ultimately, it will cost whatever you want it to cost.”Read comments