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USSF made history when it was officially made the sixth branch of the United States military. Created on December 20, 2019 with the enactment of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), USSF was established within the Department of the Air Force.
That means the Secretary of the Air Force is tasked with the overall responsibility for the USSF, under the guidance and direction of the Secretary of Defense.
USSF didn’t start from scratch; Air Force Space Command AFSPC) was redesignated as U.S. Space Force, with organizations and troops were reassigned to the new service, including 14th Air Force (redesignated as Space Operations Command), and the Space And Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo County, California.
U.S. Space Force Makes History
Many developments associated with establishing a new branch of service can be viewed as history-making. Imagine how it must have felt to be a new recruit joining the brand-new United States Air Force during the 1940s–new uniforms, new training doctrines, and new elements of national defense to become familiar with.
Academy Grads Go Space Force
This is likely how 86 brand-new Second Lieutenants graduating from the Air Force Academy in April of 2020 felt on graduation day; this group of Academy grads is the very first to be commissioned directly into Space Force.
These new Second Lieutenants will serve in a variety of capacities but only after more training. According to an Air Force press release about the graduation, “the majority” will be assigned to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, “to begin undergraduate space training”.
Those not assigned to Vandenberg will learn in other areas including cyberspace operations, intelligence, developmental engineering and acquisitions, etc. When the next phase of training is over for these grads, they will be assigned to a Space Force unit.
Space Force Personnel Numbers
There are some 16,000 military and civilian employees from the former Air Force Space Command now working for USSF. The Air Force plans more transfers, accessions, assignments, and even civilian hires to augment the Space Force.
According to the Air Force official site, once military transfers are finished, approximately 6,500 troops will work in Space force alongside roughly 3500 civilians who have been assigned from elsewhere to USSF.
That’s not all; some 6,000 Air Force personnel and their civilian counterparts are needed for support functions including medical, finance, security forces, and more.
Space Force Uniforms
Some who have watched the development of Space Force from its earliest stages wonder if the sixth branch of service will unveil a new uniform.
The earliest version of a new Space Force working uniform is very similar to the usual Air Force camouflage with some minor differences (name tape color is one), but it may only be a matter of time before a more distinctive design is presented.
Some may have asked whether or not a Space Force utility uniform will include a space-black color scheme, but some news sources report the following message from the Space Force official Twitter account:
““Space Force members control/protect assets in space but are not in space”…which fairly sums up the official view for that particular uniform question, at least for now.
May 1, 2020 was another important milestone for USSF: that was the date currently serving active-duty Airmen “eligible to transfer to the Space Force” are permitted to request such transfers, which could take effect as early as September 2020.
Space Force Flag
The official flag of the Space Force is derived from key and central elements of the seal of the United States Space Force. The flag resembles the seal with an arrowhead set in front of a globe, accented by stars. The dark blue and white of the flag is meant to represent the “vast recesses of outer space” and includes a elliptical orbit with three large stars meant to symbolize the branch’s purpose: “organizing, training and equipping” Space Force troopers
The flag of the newly created armed service will hang alongside those of the other military services at the White House.
The First Space Force Space Mission
In March 2020, USSF made history with its first space mission launch of a Titan V rocket carrying an Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite, which is essentially a communications relay according to the U.S. Space Command official site.
The 4th Space Operations Squadron operates a “protected satellite constellation” that the first U.S. Space Force launch supported. The satellite can be used for missile defense, “near real-time targeting”, fire support, air defense, and contributing to submarine and bomber missions.
On January 24, 2020, an official Space Force Logo was unveiled, and a few days later the Secretary of Defense was quoted in a news conference saying that America isn’t the only nation with a renewed interest in space. According to Esper, “It’s just been recently that both China and Russia pushed us to the point where it now became a warfighting domain,”
In the first quarter of 2020, Space Force updates included news that the agency was ready to accept troops transferring in from other branches of military service.
Those transfers were tentatively scheduled to being starting in the fall of 2020 and not all of the 16,000 troops needed for Space Force will ultimately be stationed there permanently according to transcripts from a meeting of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense; roughly 6,000 transfers may be approved for permanent assignments in Space Force.
Those are transfers from within the Air Force; plans to accept other requests from Army, Navy, and Marine Corps members may not be possible until 2022, according to Space Force Planning Director Major General Clinton Crosier. The Space Force official site explains that staffing the new command would be supported by “…airmen in select space-related jobs will be transferred” into the U.S. Space Force in a “deliberate manner over the next 18 months, while other Airmen will remain assigned to the USSF in a supporting role”.
A January 2020 interview with the head of Space Force, General John Raymond published by SpaceNews.com includes mention of a round of redesignations that has a familiar ring to it; back in 1947 when the Air Force was created as a separate branch of military service, many former Army Air Corps bases became redesignated as Air Force bases. Now, history is repeating itself with Space Force.
The SpaceNews.Com interview with Raymond states that Air Force bases which primarily operate in the space realm will be redesignated as Space Force Bases. A possible list of redesignations includes the following:
- Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado
- Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado
- Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado
- Patrick Air Force Base, Florida
- Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
- Cavalier Air Force Station, North Dakota
- Clear Air Force Station, Alaska
- Thule Air Base, Greenland
In March, 2020, the Space Force official site contained information about the future staffing plans of the agency; roughly 16,000 Air Force troops and civilian personnel were assigned to the Space Force in late 2019. “Appropriate personnel will have the opportunity to transfer” into USSF “and become U.S. Space Force service members” but these opportunities are still being developed at press time.
“With my signature today, you will witness the birth of the Space Force, and that will be…the sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces,” President Trump Speaking at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland
On Tuesday, February 19, 2019, the President signed Space Policy Directive Four; a measure taken to establish the United States Space Force; something the president had announced in August of 2018.
The original plan included the Space Force being a “separate but equal” branch of the United States Military, similar to what happened when the United States Air Force became a separate branch of military service in 1947, but thanks to the passage of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the U.S. Space Force will be gradually brought into existence via the Air Force (see below) rather than trying to start building it from the ground up.
Continued development of the concept included the creation of a Space Force that exists initially under the jurisdiction of the United States Air Force rather than a separate branch of service. The military’s official Space Force Fact Sheet states that with the passage of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, a transition to a separate branch of service would begin even as the first Chief Of Space Operations becomes a member of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff.
U.S. Space Force is the sixth branch of the military services; it is led by Air Force General John Raymond, the head of Air Force Space Command and U.S. Space Command, who is the first Chief of Space Operations.
Starting Up U.S. Space Force
The creation and maintenance of a new branch of the military is a complicated and political process, and after much controversy, the President’s actions on February 19th announced a scaled-back version of the original, more ambitious plan.
The first step towards the creation of a Space Force includes a new combatant command. The head of SPACECOM, Gen. Jay Raymond, will inherit 87 units and about 624 personnel, covering “missile warning, satellite operations, space control and space support. This is effective August 29, 2019.
August 29, 2019 was the official launch date of U.S. Space Command. This U.S. Space Command should not be confused with the existing Air Force Space Command, which is a service-specific operation of the United States Air Force known as a Major Command or MajCom.
The U.S. Space Force is organized differently than a MajCom; it is one of the Combatant Commands operated by the Department of Defense and operates alongside United States European Command, Special Operations Command, and Cyber Command. As you can see, these commands do not replace the service-specific commands over operations such as Navy SEALs (Special Operations), etc.
The initial staffing for Space Force, as authorized by federal law and announced by the Defense Department, includes using airmen serving under the existing Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) which is redesignated as the United States Space Force as “an initial step” in establishing the Space Force. Those who served at AFSPC prior to the redesignation are “reassigned” to work for Space Force. There are plans to transfer others from the Air Force and other branches of service as needed during the establishment of the new command.
The United States Space Force is not a brand-new concept. It was actually established as a functioning entity in 1985, but did not survive the merger with United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) following 9/11.
Many published reports note that the establishment of U.S. Space Force as a one of the Combatant Commands is a precursor to the establishment of a sixth branch of the United States Military.
This idea was floated in a document known as Space Policy Directive 4 and an update on this concept was delivered in a speech at the Pentagon by Vice President Mike Pence on August 9, 2019.
That update includes the goal of establishing a space-oriented sixth branch of the U.S. military known as Space Operations Force, plus a joint effort known as the Space Development Agency. The timeline for this plan involves standing up the Space Operations Force by 2020.
Plans For The Creation Of The Space Operations Force
There are several aspects of the creation of the new Space Operations Force that were revealed in the 9 August speech. The include:
Not Starting From Scratch–the Vice President indicated that the Space Operations Force will draw on certain existing assets and infrastructure rather than starting with nothing and building an entirely new force from the ground up;
Trained Personnel Are Ready To Serve In Space Operations Force– the Vice President has gone on the record in this area stating, “Across this department and our intelligence agencies, there are literally tens of thousands of military personnel, civilians and contractors operating and supporting our space systems”;
The DoD Considers Space A Warfighting Domain– the Vice President’s speech noted the activities of U.S. competitors in space. “For many years, nations from Russia and China to North Korea and Iran have pursued weapons to jam, blind and disable our navigation and communications satellites.”
The February 2019 Presidential Directive Creates A Space Force Combatant Command
The “separate but equal” branch of service plan will not happen under the current directive; at the time of this writing, the new plan for the Space Force involves the creation of a service that falls under the Air Force. The new Space Force would be designed as a Combatant Command similar to those already established including:
- CENTCOM (Current Page): U.S. Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida
- AFRICOM: U.S. Africa Command, Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany
- EUCOM: U.S. European Command, Patch Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany
- NORTHCOM: U.S. Northern Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado
- INDOPACOM: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii
- SOUTHCOM: U.S. Southern Command, Miami, Florida
- SOCOM: U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida
- TRANSCOM: U.S. Transportation Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois
- STRATCOM: U.S. Strategic Command, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska
- CYBERCOM: U.S. Cyber Command, Fort Meade, Maryland
The organizations from CENTCOM to SOUTHCOM in the list above are all considered Geographic Combatant Commands, with SOCOM through CYBERCOM being Functional Combatant Commands.
Possible Space Force Command Missions
The February 2019 directive orders the Department of Defense to gather and use its resources to “deter and counter threats in space,” which is a mission that is already ongoing but would be formally handled by the new Space Force command.
Space-based missions could include counter-intelligence or other operations designed to push back against actions in space by China and other nations that regularly launch satellites, GPS technology, experiment with space-based research, etc.
Nuclear deterrence from space is another area that has been explored since the days of the Reagan-era “Star Wars” missile defense strategy. There are also some 1,700 satellites in space at the time of this writing, all of them are vulnerable to attack, compromise, and interference.
Going Forward Into Space
There are some who feel that the arguments in favor of this force historically mirror those used to justify the creation of a separate Air Force. History has proven the pro-Air Force contingent correct; control and dominance of airspace has been a key part of every military conflict American forces have participated in since World War Two.
But establishing a new Space Force has several technical and political issues that will serve as major challenges. In spite of a Presidential directive to create such a force even as a branch of service falling under the Air Force, funding issues, infrastructure, and recruitment will all be challenges in the road ahead.
And then there are issues related to other existing agencies that also work in space including the previously mentioned Air Force Space Command, NASA, civilian companies such as SpaceX, etc. How a newly established Space Force would handle such jurisdictional issues remains to be seen, and will definitely present challenges to Space Force leadership.
The directive as it was presented on February 19th has a goal of standing up the Space Force under the auspices of the Air Force by the end of 2020.
How It All Started
On August 9, 2018, the Vice President announced that the Department of Defense has been tasked to create a sixth branch, the U.S. Department of the Space Force, by the year 2020. Plans were also announced to establish a new combatant command — U.S. Space Command — as well as a Space Operations Force and a new joint organization called the Space Development Agency. A new Assistant Secretary of Defense position for space is also in the works.
“The time has come to establish the United States Space Force,” Pence said. The United States Space Force is the first proposed new branch of military service since the United States Air Force was officially created after World War II.
The announcement came following a seven-week feasibility study ordered by the President. The creation of the a Space Force has, according to a Department of Defense press release, was motivated by research and development of weaponized space platforms by rival countries including China.
Concerns about space warfare aren’t limited to operations outside the Earth’s atmosphere; the August 9th 2018 press release announcing the U.S. Department of the Space Force included a brief mention of rival nations’ attempts to interfere with U.S. space communication and navigational platforms using ground-based tactics.
In the past, the United States has also researched space-based weaponry. In the 1980s, then-President Ronald Reagan announced a controversial program called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), derisively known as “Star Wars” by critics and opponents. R&D into space-based weapons systems at that time included research into x-ray lasers, “neutral particle beams,” and something known as the hypervelocity railgun.
Some thought the creation of such weapons systems could ignite a space-based arms race, but according to the Department of Defense, China has successfully destroyed targets in space in recent years; Russia is also attempting to develop an airborne laser presumably for similar purposes. Vice President Mike Pence intimated in the DoD press statement that North Korea may have tried its hand at developing space weaponry, but did not elaborate.
SDI ended in 1993 and defense emphasis shifted away from space and toward more theater-based missile defense systems.
The Space Force concept announced by the White House may or may not have been inspired by Air Force Space Command, which is headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. The Air Force Space Command mission includes both space and cyberspace, but the United States Space Force would be an entirely new entity much larger than a major command, essentially proposed as its own branch of service similar to the Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps.
Benefits of a Space Force
Photo credit: SpaceX
Currently space-related efforts are scattered across the Army, Air Force, and Navy plus intelligence in the National Reconnaissance Office and Space and Missile Systems Center. About 80 percent of space qualified personnel reside in the Air Force, but all services have personnel with space expertise. A new service would theoretically ensure that there’s a branch of service focused 100 percent on space. Proponents have argued the Pentagon is complicated enough and this would just make it more complex. Another added benefit is that a Space Force would create career paths for people who specialize in space.
One particular area of national (and international) interest a U.S. Space Force could serve is protecting the network of satellites and other hardware used to maintain the effectiveness of Global Positioning System (GPS) operations.
Militaries and governments around the globe depend on GPS systems for a variety of uses on and off the battlefield. A physical threat to GPS hardware in space is something many refuse to take lightly; the creation of a Space Force in the minds of some would be a deterrent to a nation considering the tactical advantage of disrupting such systems.
Another serious issue is the ever-growing amount of man-made objects in orbit around the planet, creating potential hazards for space exploration.
A Space Force mission may include early warning and interdiction for nuclear missile launches against the United States or its’ partner nations, and could also operate space-based early warning and tracking missions for satellites that fall out of orbit and back into Earth’s atmosphere.
Space is an integral part of the National Defense Strategy and military operations worldwide depend on space. Squad operations in Afghanistan all the way through command and control of America’s nuclear deterrent depend on assets in space.
The Space Force is also expected to speed development and acquisition of space assets where there are currently around 140 military satellites. The plan would address who replaces those satellites, maneuvers them and who prevents tampering or jamming.
Do Other Countries Operate Some Form Of A Space Force?
A variety of other countries have operations that could be interpreted (loosely or otherwise) as a type of Space Force or an organization that could be modified to become more like a Space Force. They include:
- China – People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force
- Russia – Russian Aerospace Forces
- European Space Agency – A coalition of 22 member states but not under a militarized structure
- France – French Joint Space Command
- India – Integrated Space Cell
Current Operations That Could Be Taken Over By A U.S. Space Force
The Air Force’s “Space Mountain” operation, formally known as Cheyenne Mountain Complex, has tracked a large number of man-made objects in orbit as part of the Air Force mission. This mission is essential for the safety of any space-based operation including supply missions to the International Space Station (ISS), manned trips to the moon or Mars, etc.
The NASA official site reports some 500,000 man-made objects currently orbit the planet. A separate Space Force may well take on the responsibility for tracking these objects as part of its’ mission and could even begin an aggressive program to eliminate orbiting hazards.
The President stated in 2018 that space is a warfighting domain and should be treated just like sea, sky, and ground-based operations. This echoes the words of General John Raymond’s article quoted above but obviously departs from General John W. Raymond’s notion of keeping space operations within the jurisdiction of Air Force Space Command.
In 2020, Air Force Space Command was redesignated as U.S. Space Force via the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. All of the former Air Force Space Command experienced a reorganization and reassignment to accommodate the new agency, which made its first launch into space via an Atlas V rocket.