United States Space Force

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The United States Space Force (USSF) is the proposed space warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It would be the sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces and the eighth U.S. uniformed service.

If established, it would be organized as a military service branch within the Department of the Air Force, one of the three military departments within the Department of Defense. The Space Force, through the Department of the Air Force, would be headed by the civilian Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space and the Secretary of the Air Force, who reports to the Secretary of Defense, and is appointed by the President with Senate confirmation. The highest-ranking military officer in the Space Force would be the Chief of Staff of the Space Force, who would exercise supervision over Space Force units and serve as one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Space Force components would be assigned, as directed by the Secretary of Defense, to the combatant commands, and neither the Secretary of the Air Force, Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space, or the Chief of Staff of the Space Force would have operational command authority over them.

Along with performing independent space operations, the Space Force would be responsible for providing space support to land, air, naval, and cyber forces.


According to a report prepared by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, there were three major organizational issues with space, which were also identified by a number of studies and congressional commissions, that would be addressed by an independent space force.[1]

Split acquisitions responsibility[edit]

The responsibility for space acquisitions is fragmented among approximately 60 different organizations within the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community. Within the military services, approximately 80% of the space budget is invested in the Air Force, but other components are located within the Army and Navy, including satellites and space personnel. Moreover, it was reported that the classified military intelligence space budget of the National Reconnaissance Office and other intelligence agencies may rival that of the Air Force.

This split of acquisitions and budgetary authorities between 60 different organizations results in no single organization having overall authority or leadership for space, consequently resulting in slower decision making, uncoordinated acquisitions efforts, and a lack of accountability for over-budget or over-schedule programs.[1]

Split space workforce[edit]

Space personnel, much like space acquisitions, are scattered across the United States Armed Forces and Intelligence Community, with too small a number of individuals in most organizations to create a viable career track for space professionals. This is compounded by the frequent rotation of personnel in and out of space billets every few years, which prevents individuals from becoming familiar with the space domain.

The traditional role of a military service is to organize personnel into domain-focused communities to develop domain-focused doctrine, strategy, and policies. This is done by the Army for land domain, the Navy for the maritime domain, and the Air Force for the air domain. The current services organize personnel and doctrine around their respective domains. Currently there is no such organization for space, which leaves the domain split and unstable.[1]

Current military services' conflict of interest on space[edit]

The current military services, the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, are all organized and aligned primarily to prosecute war in their native domains of the land, sea, and air, with space being seen as a secondary support function. This conflict of interest has stymied the growth of space professionals. For instance the Air Force has long been vocal about the fact that the other services place requirements upon the space systems that the Air Force operates without providing any of the funding. It, however, does not take this approach to air assets that support the other services.

When the military services are forced to choose between space and their primary domain, it has historically been demonstrated that they chose their primary domain, whether it be the land, maritime, or air. For instance, between FY 2010 and 2014, the Air Force budget for aircraft and space systems both decreased by 1/3, but when the budget began to rise again, aircraft procurement rose by 50%, while space procurement continued to decline by another 17% in an environment of rising budgets. It has been noted that the most powerful institutions in national security are the military services, yet there is no military service dedicated to promote military space activities.[1]

Role and mission[edit]

Once established, the U.S. Space Force is intended to become the lead military service for space operations, responsible for space doctrine, organization, training, matériel, leadership and education, personnel, facilities, and policy.

The Space Force would be organized with the missions of: Protecting the United States' interests in space and the peaceful use of space for all responsible actors, consistent with all applicable law, to include international law; Ensuring the unfettered use of space for the United States' national security and economic interests, as well of that for U.S. allies; To deter aggression against the United States, its allies, and interests from hostile acts in and from space; To ensure that space capabilities are integrated and available to all combatant commands; To project military power in, from, and to space in support of the U.S.'s interests; And to develop, maintain, and improve national security space professionals.[2]

The Space Force would develop forces for: space situational awareness; satellite operations, and global, integrated, command and control of military space forces; global and theater military space operations to enable joint campaigns (to include missile warning); space support to land, air, naval, and cyber forces; spacelift and space range operations; space-based nuclear detonation detection; and prompt and sustained offensive and defensive space operations to achieve space superiority.[2]

Proposed organization[edit]

Initially the Space Force would be organized as a military service within the Department of the Air Force, but would later be transferred to the Department of the Space Force, with the time to be determined by a periodic review. The Space Force would merge the military's existing space forces and authorities. The Space Force would not include the National Reconnaissance Office, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or other non-military space agencies.[2]

If approved by Congress, the Secretary of the Air Force would have overall responsibility for organizing, training, and equipping both the Air Force and the Space Force. Where appropriate, the Space Force would leverage existing Air Force infrastructure, except in performing those functions that are unique to the space domain or that are central to the independence of the new military service.[2]

The Space Force would assume responsibility for all major space acquisitions programs, as well as manage a distinct and separate budget, ensuring independence from the other services. The Space Force would include all uniformed and civilian personnel within the Department of Defense conducting and supporting space operations, centralizing management of space professional. The Space Force would also create career paths for military and civilian space personnel, to include operations, intelligence, engineering, science, acquisitions, and cyber. While establishing the Space Force, the DoD would utilize inter-service transfers, initial lateral entry, direct commission authorities, career incentive pays and retention bonuses, and waivers to accession policy.[2][3]

The military head of the Space Force would be the Chief of Staff of the Space Force (CSSF), who would be an officer in the grade of O-10. The Chief of Staff would be a full member of the Joint Staff and be the primary military expert and advocate for spacepower. An Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space, to be known as the Undersecretary for Space, would be appointed to provide civilian oversight, under the direction of the Secretary of the Air Force.[2]

According the Department of Defense, a Space National Guard would also be established as the National Guard component of the Space Force, in addition to a space reserve force.[4]

Relationships with other organizations[edit]

Military departments and services[edit]

The Space Force would ensure space capabilities, doctrine, training, and expertise are available to support the respective missions of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard.[2]

Unified Combatant Commands[edit]

As with the other services, the Space Force would provide appropriately organized, trained, and equipped forces to the combatant commands, with the preponderance of forces provided to United States Space Command, however forces would be provided to all of the combatant commands in order to integrate space capabilities and doctrine into all aspects of planning and operations.[2]

Space Development Agency[edit]

Initially intended to be stood up as a joint acquisitions agency, the Space Development Agency would eventually be transitioned into the Space Force.[2]

Intelligence Community[edit]

The Space Force, in collaboration with the Intelligence Community, would identify, prioritize, and advocate for the intelligence capabilities, personnel, training, and organizational constructs necessary to provide intelligence support to military and intelligence space missions. To ensure integration with the National Reconnaissance Office, the Space Force would assume those functions currently executed by Air Force Space Command elements within the NRO.[5]

Transition plan[edit]

The Space Force is intended to be established over a five-year period, from FY 2020 to FY 2024. The Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the existing military department secretaries and military service chiefs, would determine which of the current services' forces would be transitioned over to the Space Force.[2]

Fiscal Year 2020[edit]

If approved by Congress, the Department of Defense would first establish the Space Force headquarters element, enabling the Space Force to better integrate its operating forces. Initial headquarters size would total at approximately 200 military and civilian personnel, with most having expertise in policy, planning, personnel management, financial management, legal, and other service support functions. Additionally, a Chief of Staff of the Space Force and Undersecretary for Space would be nominated.[2]

Fiscal Year 2021/2022[edit]

Transfer of the majority of space forces from the other military services would occur over FY 2021 and 2022. This would include relevant space operational elements, acquisition elements, training and education elements, and other identified space-specific entities.[2]

Fiscal Year 2023/2024[edit]

The transition period is expected to end in FY 2024, with the Space Force expanding and developing its capabilities. It is expected that the Space Force will establish new operational forces, as well as organic support, intelligence, and education capabilities.[2]

Estimated costs and personnel[edit]

While initially stood up with 200 personnel in FY 2020, the Space Force is expected to grow to 15,000 personnel, transferred from the existing military services, by FY 2024. At the end of this transition period 95% of the Space Force's budget is expected to be composed of funds transferred from the other military services, with only an additional increase of $500 million (0.07% of the DoD budget) required per year. The total additional cost growth over those five years is estimated to be less than $2 billion, or approximately 0.05% of the DoD budget for the same period.[2]

Proposal history[edit]

2001 Space Commission[edit]

In response to a congressional mandate, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld chaired a commission composed of a number of space, military, and intelligence professionals to analyze and recommend how the United States organized its national security space assets. The report stated that the U.S. Armed Forces needed to transform its space capabilities by developing doctrine, concepts of operations, and capabilities - to include the development and deployment of space-based weapons systems to defend space assets and augment land, air, and maritime forces. It also stated that the US needed to strengthen its space-based intelligence capabilities, actively shape the international legal and regulatory environment for space, advance American space technology, and create and sustain a cadre of military space professionals - both civilian and military.

With regard to the Air Force, which at the time held 85% of the military space budget, the commission concluded that, although official doctrine calls for the integration of air and space operations, the Air Force treats space merely as a secondary support arm to its air mission. The commission recommenced that the Air Force take steps to create a space culture within the service, to include new space systems concepts, doctrine, and operational capabilities. The commission also recognized that the Intelligence Community was not properly able to interface with the Department of Defense regarding space matters.

To address these concerns the commission recommended in the mid-term creating a Space Corps within the Department of the Air Force, and in the long term a separate military department for space. It also recommended merging Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office space programs, amending U.S. Code Title 10 to give the Air Force congressional responsibility, in the short-term, for air and space operations.[6]

2017 Space Corps proposal[edit]

In 2017 the United States Space Corps was bipartisan proposal by Republican Representative Mike Rogers and Democratic Representative Jim Cooper to create separate space service within the Department of the Air Force, with its head as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This concept would have been similar how the United States Marine Corps is a separate service within the Department of the Navy. This proposal was put forward to separate space professionals from the Air Force, give space a greater cultural focus, and help develop a leaner and faster space acquisitions system. This was done, in part, due to the concern that the space mission had become subordinate to the Air Force's primary air dominance mission. Representative Rogers also stated that this new Space Corps would have helped create a better career path for space professionals, noting that in 2016 none of the 37 Air Force colonels selected for promotion to brigadier general were space officers and that only two of the 450 hours of Air Force professional military education were dedicated to national security space.[7] Ultimately the proposal passed in the House of Representatives, but was cut from the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act while reconciling the House and Senate Bills. Instead, the 2018 NDAA boosted the position of Air Force Space Command by extending the term of its commander to six years and making it the sole command for all Air Force space forces. The DoD was also required to conduct a study of how it organized military space forces.[8][9][10]

Space Force proposal[edit]

President Trump holds up Space Policy Directive-3 at the White House on June 18, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump first publicly spoke about the idea of a Space Force during a speech in March 2018.[11] In a meeting with the newly revived National Space Council he directed the Defense Department to begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the United States Armed forces.[12]

The current proposal is supported by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who has stated that a space force is critical to defending the United States' energy grid and GPS network.[13] Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett has also endorsed a space force.[14] Other supporters include Air Force General and commander of both United States Space Command and Air Force Space Command John W. Raymond, Navy Admiral and NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis, Air Force Colonel and astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Air Force Colonel and astronaut Terry Virts, Marine Corps Colonel and astronaut Jack R. Lousma, astronaut David Wolf, astronaut Clayton Anderson, CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23]

In May 2019, a group of 43 former military, space, and intelligence leaders unaffiliated with the current administration released an open letter calling for a space force. Signatories include former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former Directors of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis C. Blair and Vice Admiral John Michael McConnell, former Chairman of the House Science Committee Congressman Robert Smith Walker, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work, former Secretary of the Air Force and Director of the National Reconnaissance Office Edward C. Aldridge Jr., former Chiefs of Staff of the Air Force Generals Larry D. Welch and Ronald Fogleman, former Commander of Strategic Command Admiral James O. Ellis, former Vice Chiefs of Staff of the Air Force Generals Thomas S. Moorman Jr. and Lester Lyles, former Commander of Air Force Space Command General Lance W. Lord, former Assistant Secretaries of the Air Force Tidal W. McCoy and Sue C. Payton, former Assistant Secretaries of the Air Force for Space and National Reconnaissance Office Directors Martin C. Faga, Jeffrey K. Harris, and Keith R. Hall, Assistant Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Charles E. Allen, former National Reconnaissance Office Director Scott F. Large, former Directors of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Letitia Long, Robert Cardillo, and Vice Admiral Robert B. Murrett, former Deputy Undersecretaries of Defense for Space Policy Marc Berkowitz and Douglas Loverro, former Commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center Brian A. Arnold, former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Ronald L. Burgess Jr., former Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space and astronaut Gary Payton, Deputy Director of the National Reconnaissance Office and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space David Kier, former Air Force astronaut Colonel Pamela Melroy. The list also includes the former Deputy Commander of U.S. Space Command, and the former Deputy Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, and the Chairman of the Allard Commission on National Security Space.[24]

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has stated that a space force, in addition to war fighting responsibilities, should have the roles of space debris cleanup and asteroid defense.[25][26]

Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has stated space "is becoming a contested war-fighting domain, and we have to adapt to that reality."[27] Former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James opposed an independent space service, believing that since it would be the smallest armed service, it would be detrimental to space operations, and instead supports the reestablishment of United States Space Command.[28]

The U.S. Congress directed two studies to examine the viability of a space force: the first was due in August 2018 and the second was due in December 2018.[28] According to Representative Rogers, the first study assesses to what extent a space force would be necessary, while the second one examines its nature, implementation, and costs.[29] On July 2018, it was reported that the DoD was putting its "final touches" on the first report according to Air Force chief General David Goldfein.[30] The Center for Naval Analyses was contracted to conduct the second report, which was ordered to provide more specifics on how to pave the way for the creation of a space force.[28]

In August 2018, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced a plan that would establish the Space Force by 2020.[31] On August 13, 2018 the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 was signed into law, which included the re-establishment of U.S. Space Command, which will be led by a four-star general or admiral and will temporarily be organized as a sub-unified combatant command under U.S. Strategic Command, until it can be elevated to a full unified combatant command.[32] In December 2018, the Trump administration directed that U.S. Space Command to instead be reestablished as a full unified combatant command, with full responsibilities for space warfighting held under U.S. Strategic Command.[33][34] However, the elevation to full unified combatant command has met continued delays since it requires Congress to amend the law directing its reestablishment as sub-unified combatant command.[35] On February 19, 2019, Space Policy Directive-4 was signed, which calls for the Space Force to be initially organized within the Department of the Air Force, and at a later date transitioned to the Department of the Space Force. All space operations forces of the Air Force, Army, and Navy would be transferred into the new service branch.[3]

On March 1, 2019, the Department of Defense sent its legislative proposal to the United States Congress.[36] Defense officials again appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 11, 2019, where they were met with bipartisan opposition for the proposal from the Senate, as well as lawmakers from the House of Representatives.[37][38] Lawmakers questioned defense officials over the need of the additional service branch,[37][38] and expressed concern over the additional funding to support a sixth service,[39][38][37] the additional bureaucracy,[37] and duplication of personnel.[37] Lawmakers also expressed concern that splitting the Space domain away from the other services and putting space into a new service would undermine joint service partnership in that domain.[39] On May 19, 2019, the House Appropriations Committee announced in a drafted report that they will not support the allocation of funding to establish a Space Force.[40] However, the committee also reports that they did not completely reject the idea of establishing a Space Force,[40] and have recommended that $15 million be appropriated to the Department of Defense for further study of how a space service could be organized.[40]

On May 23, 2019, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to approve the establishment of the Space Force, but with a modified organizational buildup. In their initial proposal for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee did not authorize to creation of an Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space; instead the bill would create one new civilian position and re-designate another. The first being the creation of an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, who would work inside the Office of the Secretary of Defense and would be responsible for setting major space policies, which includes how and when the Armed Forces should respond to threats in space. Second is the re-designation of the Principal Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force for Space, as the Principal Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration. The position would act as the primary space acquisition head, and will oversee the Space and Missile Systems Center, the Space Development Agency, and the Space Rapid Capabilities Office. The proposal also re-designates the commander of Air Force Space Command as the Commander of the Space Force. The Space Force Chief of Staff would report through the Air Force Chief of Staff to the Secretary of the Air Force in the new service's first year of operations, before reporting directly to the Secretary of the Air Force. In the first year the Space Force Chief of Staff will attend sessions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff only when invited to speak about space topics, before becoming a full sitting member one year later. The Space Force Chief of Staff would also be temporally duel-hatted as Commander, U.S. Space Command for a period of one year. The proposal prohibits adding any new military or civilian personnel, with existing personnel within the Air Force providing the requisite staff for establishment.[41][42]

The House Armed Services committee voted to approve the establishment of the Space Corps on June 13, 2019. The proposal of the formation of a space force was included in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act under the name of the United States Space Corps instead of the Space Force name in the Senate proposal.[43] The amendment made to the Senate Armed Services Committee's version of the 2020 NDA, which proposes the Space Corps, was amended by Democrat Jim Cooper and Republican Mike Rogers[44] and states that the space military branch will have personnel and assets transferred by the Air Force but may not include the personnel or assets of the National Reconnaissance Office or the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.[43] The Space Corps will be organized, trained, and equipped to provide freedom of operation for the United States in, from and to space and that the secretary of defense can transfer to the Space Corps “functions, assets and obligations" of the space elements of the Air Force (including all property, records, installations, activities, facilities, agencies and projects).[44] The proposal would also create the Commandant of the Space Corps, who would join the Joint Chiefs of Staff.[45]

See also[edit]

Non-U.S. space forces[edit]


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