STABILITY SECURITY TRANSITION RECONSTRUCTION
Pentagon Fleshing Out Space Force Organizational Details
As the fanfare around the new military service dies down, many unanswered questions surrounding the structure of the Space Force still remain.
The newest member of the armed services was officially stood up in December and received its first budget from the Trump administration as a “separate but co-equal” branch in February. But structurally, the details of organizing, manning and training the new service and its members will be hammered out in the coming months.
Gen. John “Jay” Raymond was sworn in as the Space Force’s first chief of space operations in January. Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett assigned more than 16,000 uniformed and civilian members of the Air Force to the Space Force, the service’s vice commander, Lt. Gen. David Thompson said in February. Most of those personnel came from what was formerly known as Air Force Space Command.
The service is expected to grow substantially, Thompson said during remarks at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida.
“It is going to grow in the near future,” he said. “As a result of the planning that we've done already in the agreement of our leaders — the secretary, the chief and others — there are organizations out there in the United States Air Force today that over the next days and weeks to come, will be realigned and reorganized under the United States Space Force.”
According to Thompson, the service is in the process of working with the Defense Department to determine which capabilities and personnel in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps should be transferred.
This process is one of the biggest question marks about the force, said Todd Harrison, director of the aerospace security project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
“One of the big unknowns right now is what parts of the other services are going to get transferred to the Space Force,” he said.
In particular, the Army has ongoing space programs, such as Kestrel Eye — a small visible-imagery satellite designed to provide images to tactical-level ground soldiers — which will have to be transferred in order to avoid a fragmented space organization from remaining inside the Defense Department, Harrison said.
“So far, the Army does not seem to indicate that they want to transfer that to the Space Force, but I think that's a prime example of what should be transferred,” he said. “The Army has well over 1,000 space operators as part of the Army Space and Missile [Command].”
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in March that a “massive merger” is underway between the Army and Space Force, but remained vague regarding which programs and how many personnel would be transferred.
How the Army contributes to the Space Force is “a joint warfighting concept issue,” McCarthy said during the annual McAleese & Associates defense programs conference in Washington, D.C.
“How can you break apart the division of labor?” he asked. “That's really the work that has got to be done with the chairman and the chiefs.”
The Army is the No. 1 consumer of space and “nobody needs it more than us,” he added. “So, we are clearly dialed in with this.”
Determining what will be transferred and when it will occur will be made by Pentagon leaders, Thompson confirmed.
“From a personnel standpoint, we will be asking people to volunteer to join the United States Space Force,” he said.
In the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, which was passed in December, Congress mandated that the Space Force cannot add new military personnel positions.
“All military personnel have to be transferred from another service,” Harrison said. “I think that's great, that is going to do wonders for keeping the headquarters bloat to a minimum.”
Service leaders do not anticipate there will be an issue enticing prospective employees to join, Thompson said.
For example, in January the service posted job announcements and position descriptions for 31 civilians to join the office of the chief of space operations, he said. At the time of his speech in February, the service had 5,722 applicants.
However, despite interest from prospective new employees, there are still many within the United States who do not know what the Space Force does, Thompson said.
The service will need to be engaged in a diligent campaign to help the American people understand why the Space Force is needed and explain what it does, Thompson said.
That will be particularly important as the nation faces increased threats in space from great power competitors Russia and China, he added.
Another focus for the Pentagon as it builds out the architecture for the new service is leadership in acquisition, Barrett said.
The service needs acquisition personnel to unify the Pentagon’s space capabilities under one umbrella, she said in March during an event hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in Washington, D.C.
“What we have to do with the Space Force is to logically bring things together, [and] develop an umbrella under which there will be specialized, professional, talented leadership for space," Barrett said. “That is going to require, especially, leadership in acquisitions so that we can acquire new systems and build better systems and have a common architecture when a common architecture makes sense.”
In tight budgetary environments both now and in the future “we aren’t going to be able to fund duplicative programs,” she said. “We're going to have to de-conflict things.”
While each service uses space, the Pentagon needs “one coordinated mission, one coordinated budget and one coordinated acquisition process … under one department,” she said. “That is where the Space Force comes in.”
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 — the legislation that created the Space Force — established an office of the assistant secretary for the Air Force for space acquisition and integration.
The person who will lead that the office has not and will not be chosen until the acquisition system is further fleshed out, Barrett said.
“What we're working on is to make sure that we establish a system that we're going to want to live with,” Barrett said. “We are working to build that entire system before we ... [select] an individual in that spot. We had a conversation as recently as yesterday about how that will be structured.”
Another topic of speculation in defense communities is where the Space Force will be headquartered.
Speaking during a March House Armed Services Committee hearing, Barrett said the selection process for a permanent headquarters for the service will begin later this year.
Currently, Space Command is temporarily based out of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said basing the Space Force out of another location would be a big mistake. Lamborn’s district includes the command.
To “move away from Colorado Springs would take billions of dollars to replicate what's already there,” he said during a panel discussion in February at an event hosted by the Space Foundation. “It would require the relocation of thousands of personnel and it would take years to accomplish and we don't have those years — we have a threat right now from our near peers that some would say we're falling behind.”
Throughout the process of selecting a permanent base for the command, the Pentagon is taking into consideration specific criteria such as quality of schools and the ability of spouses to obtain jobs.
“The occupational reciprocity of the state will be among the things that we'll take a look at in evaluating whether it is family friendly for our military families,” she said. ‘Those would be elements that we would anticipate being a part of the process.”
While the Defense Department has yet to choose a headquarters for the command, it has started reshuffling staff inside of the Pentagon to create a space for the new service.
As the United States focuses on Space Force, Lamborn warned that China has big ambitions for the domain and plans to occupy the moon. While the nation claims the base will be used for civilian purposes, China’s civil-military fusion policy means that all civil work is intertwined with its military ambitions.
“The Chinese have said that they want to have a permanent presence [on the moon] by 2024,” he said.
“They very much have military thoughts in mind when it comes to what they could do with a permanent presence on the moon and the ability to track things and see things from an unchanging platform that no one really has right now,” he said.
Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., said China and other adversarial nations are making big investments in space.
“We do have a lot more players in space and China is investing heavily, which is why the importance of the Space Force and the realignment of our national security, our national security assets is so critical,” Horn said.
The congresswoman said she believes that both space and the Space Force will remain a priority in the coming years, even if the executive branch were to see an administration switch following the 2020 elections.
“We've got to do a better job at telling the story,” she said. “As far as the Space Force is concerned … one of the major challenges with the public is that they don't understand.”
Once those conversations begin, citizens will begin to see the need to realign the nation’s security space assets, she said.
Lamborn agreed with Horn’s sentiment: “On the national security side of space, I think that there's a real strong consensus in both the house and the Senate to make this a high priority, regardless of what administration is in the White House a year from now,” he said.
As the Space Force is fleshed out, leaders must ensure there is a minimization of bureaucracy.
The service should refrain from duplicating the same structure as the other armed services to avoid adding bureaucracy, Harrison said.
“They need to maintain a very flat organizational structure,” he said. “They're really still in the process of developing all of that right now.”
Stephen Kitay, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said the Defense Department is working to avoid this by trying to think out-of-the-box as it fleshes out the architecture of the service.
“What we have to avoid is submitting to the bureaucratic inertia of the way we have always done things before — this is our opportunity to think differently,” he said in February during an event hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in Washington, D.C.
The first way to think differently is to embrace originality and joint principles, he said.
“We have to recognize that space is as different from air as air is for land," he said. "Space is a unique domain."
Along those lines, Harrison said personnel in the service should be managed differently. The Space Force requires different skill sets, which means it probably requires a different make-up of senior to junior personnel, he said.
“They ought to be looking at experimenting with some of the new authorities that DoD has for things like lateral entry — bringing people into the military mid-career.”
• Additional reporting by Jon Harper and Yasmin Tadjdeh