As U.S. Space Force gets off the ground, officials face questions
WASHINGTON — Pentagon and U.S. Space Force officials met with reporters at the Pentagon two days after delivering a report to Congress on how the new branch of the armed forces will be organized.
Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of the U.S. Space Force, kicked off the Feb. 5 press conference acknowledging that even people who have heard about the U.S. Space Force still don’t know what it is or what it does.
“Since the creation of the Space Force I’ve gotten questions from people along the lines of ‘So we’ve created the Space Force, but what is it going to do?’” Thompson said.
Thompson pointed out that the U.S. Space Force has “plenty to do.”
When Iran in January fired ballistic missiles at two U.S. military installations in Iraq, “members of the U.S. Space Force detected those missiles at launch and provided early warning to our forces,” he said. When two satellites almost collided over Pittsburgh last week, the U.S. Space Force was monitoring the situation. If those satellites had posed a threat, it would have been the responsibility of the U.S. Space Force to warn satellite owners and operators, Thompson said. And everyone who uses GPS should be reminded that they are operated by the U.S. Space Force.
These duties previously were performed by the U.S. Air Force Space Command but moving them to a separate military service elevates the importance of space, and that was a key rationale for creating the U.S. Space Force, said Thompson.
Administrative issues remain
The chief of the U.S. Space Force Gen. John Raymond was sworn in last month and he remains to this day the only actual member of the new service who officially transferred out of the Air Force and into the Space Force. The rest of the people who were assigned to the Space Force — about 16,000 airmen and civilians — are still in the U.S. Air Force.
In the report delivered to Congress Feb. 3, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett outlined a plan to start transferring military personnel — an estimated 6,000 from the Air Force and smaller numbers from the Army and Navy — later this year.
But Thompson said there are still many details to be hashed out, and that Congress has yet to sign off on personnel transfer policies.
“The commissioning, enlistment and appointment of officers and enlisted members, much of that is controlled by law and statute by Congress,” Thompson said. “We need to go through a process with Congress to have them provide authorization for specific names and specific individuals to transfer,” he said. “We’re working with Congress right now. That will take a little bit of time.”
Director of Space Force planning Maj. Gen. Clint Crosier said the 6,000 airmen that will be expected to transfer initially are those who have “core skills” in space operations, intelligence, acquisition, engineering, training and doctrine.
Crosier said there is great enthusiasm in the ranks about joining the Space Force but officials don’t want to rush to start asking people to move over before all the administrative and legal issues are ironed out. “The transfer piece involves raising your right hand,” he said. “Our enlisted members are terminating their enlistment in the Air Force, Army or Navy and enlisting in the Space Force. Officers are resigning their commissions.”
The Space Force still does not have its own personnel system, ranks, benefits. “We want ot make sure than when individuals transfer in, all that is in place,” said Thompson. “That activity will go on over a series of months.” And there is still no decision on what the members of the Space Force will be called, Thompson said. That remains a subject of intense internal debate.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Steve Kitay said DoD still has more negotiating ahead with Congress on allowing transfers from the Army and the Navy. The law that created the U.S. Space Force only allows Air Force transfers.
“The intent is to consolidate the space forces within each of the armed forces into the U.S. Space Force,” Kitay said. “We’ll have to do that consistent with law and as appropriate,” he added. “Just because space is in the title doesn’t mean that everything leaves the services.” Both the Army and the Navy will keep some of their space units that provide direct support to forces in the field.
Crosier said there are currently 24 Army and 14 Navy officers assigned to the Space Force headquarters. That is helpful to start bringing them in, he said, but assignments are temporary. Transfers are permanent, and will require people to adapt to a different culture and structure. Crosier said figuring out a transfer process may take another six to 12 months.