Space Force: New Service’s Future Coming into Focus
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With more than six months passed, the future of the fledgling Space Force is coming into focus. However, elements of its structure are still being hammered out.
Since being stood up in December 2019, Pentagon leaders have been working to build out the new service. Gen. John Raymond, the first chief of space operations, said officials are working to create an agile and lean force.
“We’re slicing bureaucracy every chance that we get,” he said in May.
The service — which is nestled under the Department of the Air Force — recently finalized its organizational structure for echelons below headquarters. It will consist of three echelons of command, according to a news release.
“This is the most significant restructuring of space units undertaken by the United States since the establishment of Air Force Space Command in 1982,” said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett in a statement. “Innovation and efficiency are driving our mission as we position the Space Force to respond with agility to protect our nation’s space capabilities and the American way of life.”
The Space Force’s field echelons are named field commands, deltas and squadrons. There will be three field commands aligned with specific mission focuses including Space Operations Command, Space Systems Command and Space Training and Readiness Command.
“This is an historic opportunity to launch the Space Force on the right trajectory to deliver the capabilities needed to ensure freedom of movement and deter aggression in, from and to space,” Raymond said in a statement. “How we organize the Space Force will have lasting impact on our ability to respond with speed and agility to emerging threats in support of the National Defense Strategy and Space Strategy.”
In June, the Defense Department released a Defense Space Strategy which noted that the military “is embarking on the most significant transformation in the history of the U.S. national security space program.”
Space capabilities are critical to security, prosperity and scientific achievement. The United States faces potential attacks from space, and its space-based assets are vulnerable targets, an unclassified summary of the strategy said.
“China and Russia present the greatest strategic threat due to their development, testing and deployment of counter-space capabilities and their associated military doctrine for employment in conflict extending to space,” it said. “China and Russia each have weaponized space as a means to reduce U.S. and allied military effectiveness and challenge our freedom of operation in space.”
Key strategic objectives for the Pentagon include: maintaining space superiority; providing space support to national, joint and combined operations; and ensuring space stability.
The establishment of the Space Force will advance the new strategy, and its creation — alongside other measures — puts the nation on a path “that embraces space as a unique domain of national military power that, together with the other domains, underpins multi-domain joint and combined military operations to advance national security,” the document said.
The Space Force is onboarding personnel, Raymond said. In December, 16,000 airmen from Air Force Space Command were assigned to the new service. It has now opened up the application process for additional personnel to transfer from the Air Force and into the Space Force.
“That’s just a few weeks in and we already have over 3,100 applicants,” he said during a teleconference hosted by the George Washington School of Media and Public Affairs in May. “There is a significant amount of interest in what we’re doing. There are people knocking on our door each and every day asking to transfer in.”
Maj. Gen. John Shaw, commander of the Combined Force Space Component at U.S. Space Command and commander of Space Operations Command, said the service is thinking hard about what the future of space warfighting will look like and how the force should organize, train and equip.
“How can we present forces perhaps in a way we hadn’t thought of before?” he asked.
There are a number of plans that are in motion that are not yet fully approved, he said. However, Shaw expects that by the end of the summer there will be major announcements about how the Space Force will align itself.
A key aspect of the Space Force’s future is how it will acquire new technology. While the Pentagon has been working to speed up acquisitions across its weapon portfolios, space-based equipment poses a particular challenge because technology development in the sector moves quickly.
A new report drafted by Space Force officials asks Congress to give the service leeway to shift money between programs to help solve the issue.
The report, “Alternative Acquisition System for the United States Space Force,” was mandated by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. An interim report was given to Congress in May and a final report was pending as of press time.
“The cornerstones of that are increased flexibility, being able to move at speed, coming up with opportunities for further delegation and streamlining,” Raymond noted.
Shawn Barnes, a member of the senior executive service in the office of the assistant secretary for space acquisition and integration, said one of the most critical suggestions is a need to consolidate budget line items along mission portfolios. Barnes noted that was considered the most crucial recommendation by Will Roper, the Air Force’s acquisition chief.
“When we pulled together our recommendations initially and presented them to him he liked them all, but he said, ‘Wow, this is the one that if we could do this, it would be a real gamechanger,’” Barnes said during a video teleconference hosted in June by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
When Roper was in charge of the Strategic Capabilities Office he had the ability to move money between programs in a way that allowed him to solve his own problems, Barnes said.
“We’re not talking about, ‘How do I move a billion dollars … five years from now?’” he said. “We’re talking about within a year of execution, how can we move money within a portfolio to be able to take care of problems that were unforeseen? And particularly you can do that from those programs that are performing extraordinarily well.”
In a perfect world, the Space Force would have as few budget line items as possible, Barnes said. However, a manageable number is a discussion that has to be had with lawmakers, he said.
“Others might think that this is upending the way that Congress has typically done things,” he said. “We absolutely want to be very, very transparent with Congress, not just as to how ... we build this process, but how we execute this process,” he added. In addition to acquisition, the report also looks at requirements and resources, Barnes noted.
“We believe that all three of those are integrally tied to capability development,” he said. “That’s really where our challenges were.”
Officials took a clean-sheet approach and were able to unearth best acquisition practices from organizations such as the Rapid Capabilities Office, the Strategic Capabilities Office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Missile Defense Agency and others outside of the Pentagon, he noted.
“That helped us understand how best to move forward,” he said. “We talked to industry leaders about some of our ideas to make sure that we weren’t so inwardly looking that we were gazing at our own navels. … I think we got some very good feedback.”
The focus is to drive decision-making down to the lowest practical level. “We want to empower people, particularly program managers, to make the smart, risk-prudent decisions, but take sufficient risks that they can move forward,” Barnes said.
However, the Senate Armed Service Committee’s version of the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act didn’t call for much acquisition reform. Barnes said that was expected.
“There was a whole lot in the last couple of years,” he said. “There’s a lot to chew on, a lot for us to be able to work through, and so I assume that to a great extent, rather than put in an additional set of significant reforms, they want to see how these [previous] reforms work themselves out.”
However, Shaw said he expected more input from lawmakers.
“The big dog that wasn’t barking in that [legislation] was the acquisition piece,” he said. “That is a huge piece of what we’re going to need. So I anticipate we’ll see a lot of that moving forward” in future years.
A number of acquisition organizations have been folded into the Space Force. That includes the Space and Missile Systems Center, which acquires and develops military space systems. The organization’s portfolio includes space launch, global positioning, military space vehicle communications, defense meteorological space vehicles, range systems, space vehicle control networks, space-based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities. The Space Rapid Capabilities Office has also been integrated.
The Space Development Agency, which resides under the office of the undersecretary for research and engineering, is slated to be integrated into the service by October 2022.
However, officials are in disagreement on whether that should be accelerated or delayed.
Another key concern for the service is the training and development of the next generation of space warfighters. “In some ways that’s the most exciting one for us to work with,” Shaw said.
Even before the Space Force was stood up, the Pentagon was thinking hard about how to better train space professionals, he said. For example, last fall officials revamped a course for undergraduate space training for both officers and enlisted servicemembers at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, that nearly doubled its length and added in new classification levels that were not present before.
“It may already be a little behind where we need to be with a Space Force and where we’ve come in just a really short time,” he said. “We’ll be looking really hard at how we get ahead of that and how we continue to evolve training ... as well as continued development training throughout the career of a member of the Space Force.”
A major training event known as Space Flag was canceled in April due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Shaw noted.
There is “some truly good thinking that goes on in those Space Flags,” he said. “We missed that opportunity. I hope we can get that in the future.”
Meanwhile, the service is hoping it will be able to move forward with another event known as the Schriever Wargame, which takes place in the fall, Shaw said.
Other details still needing to be fleshed out for the service are whether or not there will be a Space National Guard similar to the force components that the Army and Air Force have. In the Senate Armed Service Committee’s version of the 2021 NDAA, legislators called for the establishment of a Space Force reserve component but delayed the creation of a Space National Guard until the completion of a study on the issue.
Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, the director of the Air National Guard, said he believes there will one day be a Space National Guard.
“It will take time,” he noted during a virtual event hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. Rice said he currently has between 1,300 to 1,400 Guardsmen conducting space operations.