On Dec. 20, President Donald Trump activated the United States Space Force (USSF). It is the first new branch of the U.S. military since the Air Force was established in 1947. The USSF’s mission will be to provide resilient, military-focused space capabilities with a global perspective to the American warfighter and to the nation.
The new service will fall under the Air Force much the same way the Marine Corps falls under the Department of the Navy. But it will be a very small organization. Officials say for now the Space Force will require only about 16,000 personnel. And unlike the Marines, the USSF will not be a combatant force.
As someone who spent eight years attached to Naval Space Command in Dahlgren, I wholly appreciate the need for a single service to handle the myriad and complex issues involved in protecting our interests in space. Establishing USSF will provide the most effective way to consolidate, organize and defend U.S. assets, especially those critical satellites we rely upon for navigation and communication.
China, of course, was quick to voice its displeasure with Space Force (which probably means its creation was not only the right action to take, it’s likely overdue). According to Beijing, the USSF is a “direct threat to outer space peace and security.” Hello, pot? China’s own space program is driven purely by military objectives and it’s advancing on steroids.
The Chinese government continues to develop and refine its capability to jam targets such as satellite communications, GPS functions and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. In April, then-Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan spoke on the need for a space organization to counter Beijing’s actions, warning: “The threat is clear: We’re in an era of great power competition, and the next major conflict may be won or lost in space.”
The United States relies more upon satellite technology than any other nation. Hospitals, homes and airlines depend on space systems. If our low-earth satellites were destroyed or jammed, we’d lose not only cellphones, but everything else that depends on computers to operate. We’d lose access to clean water, gasoline, groceries and banks. Not only would our civilian economy be paralyzed, our military would be crippled as well.
The service is justified — and regardless of whether one approves — it’s a reality, although as of now only one person is officially assigned to it. Gen. John Raymond, the former commander of U.S. Space Command, is now the Space Force’s first chief of space operations. Eventually, those 16,000 personnel will become members of the Space Force, but for the time being they will remain U.S. Air Force troops.
So, how, does one go about creating a new military branch? There is so much to be done. Heaven knows our military services love their red tape — each one has volumes of regulations, manuals and instructions. Who will create all of those? And, if the Space Force is going to become its own service, as different from the Air Force as the Marines are from the Navy, it is going to need to be as autonomous as possible.
That means, in addition to all the administrative and operational matters, there are also important decisions that will affect its public relations image. For example, who will write the service song for the Space Force? Will it be something written to be accompanied by a traditional band or will it be more modern, say techno-pop written for electromechanical instruments?
And what about the uniforms? Will they be designed with a nod to stormtrooper chic or be just another run-of-the-mill camouflage-style uniform? Just as many have wondered why our seagoing Navy decided to put its sailors in green cammies, it seems equally silly to put troops who are going to be sit behind a computer screen (and maybe one day aboard spaceships) in woodland patterns.
And, another question: What will the rank structure of the new service be? Will it follow traditional Air Force ranks such as sergeants, majors and generals — or will it fall more properly along naval ranks such as seaman, commanders and admirals? After all, international space laws are based upon international laws of the seas. And space travel is done aboard spacecraft and spaceships. Additionally, the nautical services have a long- established relationship with space — having for millennia used the stars for navigational purposes. (And I won’t mention Capt. James T. Kirk or Starfleet.)
I recently spoke with Air Force Lt Col Christina Hoggatt of U.S. Space Force Public Affairs. She says for now incoming personnel will remain members of the Air Force and retain their current ranks. No decisions have been made at this time on whether there will be any future changes. Whatever happens, watching this fledgling new service come alive will be fascinating. Here’s to hoping it soars.