The United States Space Force was established to organize, train, and equip space forces for warfighting in the space domain.
As the service begins to get off the ground, there are key questions that its leaders need to address as they plan for the future. One of them is whether the Space Force can create a unique and independent culture.
Initially the Space Force culture will be much like the Air Force’s, with the majority of personnel being former airmen.
Officials have suggested that the Space Force will develop its own culture over time as it sets up separate chains of command, uniforms and naming conventions for ranks and units.
While these artifacts will over time be associated with the culture of the service, the public attention on them has drawn a great deal of confusion and mockery. The name we call a member of the Space Force is important and must resonate with the culture (‘Sentinels’ gets my vote) more is needed to create the identity of a service.
One way for the Space Force to become more culturally independent would be to leverage the infrastructure and accessions pipeline from the other services modeling after the Army’s successful space operations officer model. That would help the Space Force consolidate capabilities that would help build its doctrine and organization.
DoD should seek from Congress the authorities necessary to establish additional end strength for each of the services to support this model. Congressional support will enable the Space Force to be better prepared to achieve its mission of providing space capabilities to the joint force; this will allow the continuous integration of members from each of the services without impacting their core focus of operations in the space domain.
A cross-service accessions model would enable a modest portion of the Space Force to have members from each service. The core element of the Space Force should be made up of those who begin their military career there. But a cross-service model would address cultural concerns, and reduce the cost and overhead required to establish a new recruitment, training, and leadership and education path within the Space Force for those capabilities transferred from other services.
A successful model
In the Army’s Functional Area (FA) 40 model for space operators, Soldiers are developed in their basic branches (field artillery, infantry, armor, signal, and engineer) and transition to become an FA40 after they serve at least a few years to contribute and learn their craft.
The transition to becoming an FA40 includes the space operations officer qualification course to ensure the FA40 understands Army space capabilities and is familiar with all aspects of space operations. A key to successful integration is the foundation built in their basic branch. The FA40 understands the need for an artillery or infantry unit to use satellite communications or positioning, navigation and timing because they have used those capabilities in their basic branch. As a space expert, the FA40 also understands the vulnerabilities of space capabilities.
To promote retention, a Soldier accepted into the FA40 career field is required additional service obligations. The United States Military Academy has recently established a program for space science majors and minors. Cadets sign contracts ensuring that after their initial term of service in a basic branch, they are guaranteed acceptance as an FA40.
Similarly, for the Army’s satellite control (SATCON) mission with the Wideband Satellite Operations Centers (WSOCs), Soldiers assigned to the 53rd SATCON battalion are trained initially like all satellite communications specialists in the Army. Soldiers are recruited, attend basic training, advanced individual training for satellite communications, and then require specialized training for the SATCON mission. When they arrive at their unit, they control the communications payloads in support of the joint force.
The Space Force already has a successful inter-service model seen recently with the first class of cadets from the U.S. Air Force academy. Rather than developing their own complete recruitment and accessions system, the DoD should establish target quotas from each of the services to contribute trained and ready personnel for a portion of the Space Force.
For example, if the Army were to transfer the SATCON capabilities including the 53rd SATCON battalion, the Space Force could expect a number of Army communicators each year.
Similarly, the Navy could be called on for some portion of its acquisition force to join the Space Force to ensure Navy user requirements are considered and better understood early in the capability development process.
As the Space Force attempts to improve their acquisition practices, drawing on trained personnel from each of the services can bring best practices and ideas from each. There are unique aspects to providing space capabilities to dismounted Soldiers and ground vehicles compared to sailors out in deep waters. The requirements for power, signal reception and interoperability with other service specific equipment require understanding those aspects for the particular missions.
The DoD could establish a similar tool to the Army’s Assured Functional Area Transfer with each of the services. Under this model, recruits or cadets would sign contracts ensuring their transfer into the Space Force after their three to four-year mark in service with an additional obligation to be served in the Space Force.
The ability to develop joint training pipelines, identifying Soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coastguardsmen who will transfer to the Space Force upon completion of at least their first two years of service may provide additional incentive to attract talent.
The case against
The initial consolidation of capabilities from the other services will bring an injection of joint culture and service appreciation. But the effects of this initial consolidation will be temporary and fade over time as those members from the other services exit the military. At best, the infusion of other service members will impact the culture for little more than a decade.
There is a case to be made for the establishment of liaisons between the services. The development of joint billets reserved for service members from each of the services in key positions within the Space Force would provide valuable expertise. However, the temporary nature of the assignment and static positions does not provide the same type of influence in culture that an inter-service transfer would. Transitioning from a parent service to the Space Force provides a unique type of loyalty and buy-in while not sacrificing the experience and expertise gained from the originating service.
In order to execute this without adding risk to the services, Congress will have to approve a modest top-line end strength and minor budget increase equivalent to the quota feeding the Space Force. This concept should not be adopted if it introduces additional risk to the core mission of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard or Air Force. If it costs the Army a battalion or a Navy crew, which would otherwise fight on the land or in the sea, then the risk is too great.
The Army and Navy are the biggest users of space capabilities and have a significant stake in ensuring the Space Force is successful while retaining the space expertise required for integration within their services. Even if this model is not followed, each of the services must ensure their equities are considered.
Maj. Joe Mroszczyk is the president of the Army Space Professionals Association, National Capital Region Chapter. He is currently working at the U.S. Army Asymmetric Warfare Group and recently served in the office of the principal DoD space advisor staff and secretary of the Air Force for space staff. The views expressed in this article are entirely those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Army.