You’re reading the SN Military.Space newsletter we publish Tuesdays. If you would like to get our news and insights for military space professionals before everyone else, sign up here for your free subscription.

Who does what? A closer look at the ‘National Security Space Workforce’

SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

Outside the national security space community, few people grasp the breadth of activities and missions that might one day transition to a Space Force, if and when Congress votes to create one. To better understand who the nation’s space warriors are, a helpful primer can be found in the 2018 annual report of the nonprofit Space Foundation, which analyzes government and industry trends in space activity.

HOW BIG IS THE SPACE WORKFORCE? The U.S. national security space workforce, based on Space Foundation numbers for 2017, is made up of more than 27,500 civilian and military professionals from the Defense Department and the intelligence community. By comparison, the NASA civil servant workforce at the start of fiscal year 2018 was 17,324. And the entire U.S. space workforce has more than 173,000 workers across the commercial, civil, and national security sectors.

AIR FORCE RULES, ARMY MOVING UP The U.S. Air Force employs the largest group of national security space workers, or about 12,456 individuals. But the U.S. Army also maintains a sizable force of soldiers and civilians with training and experience in space. The Army has 4,948 space billets — an increase of eight percent over a year ago. In the past five years, the Army space cadre has increased in size by 73 percent, adding more than 2,000 billets.

NAVY, MARINES CARE ABOUT SPACE, TOO The space cadre within the Navy includes 234 space operators and space acquisition professionals. The Marine Corps has been “actively working to sustain its space knowledge base.” The title of space operations officer was held by 32 Marines at the beginning of 2017, and is earned by receiving a Master’s Degree from either the Naval Postgraduate School or from the Air Force Institute of Technology. A key concern for Marines: “Formulate potential solutions for operating in a denied, degraded, and disrupted space operating environment.”

COAST GUARD HAS SATELLITES The U.S. Coast Guard does not have a dedicated space corps, but it’s involved in space research and development efforts. In 2018, for the first time, the Coast Guard is planning to launch two small satellites developed in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s Polar Scout program, the Air Force Space Rapid Capabilities Office, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. After they are launched in mid-2018, the satellites will be able to detect the position of vessels carrying emergency radio beacons while operating in the Arctic. The Coast Guard Research and Development Center built a ground control station in Alaska and plans to build an additional station at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.

INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY The National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency have a large space workforce. The NRO, which develops the nation’s classified satellites, has about 3,000 personnel. NGA develops and provides geospatial intelligence, and employs approximately 14,500 individuals, 6,800 of which analyze satellite data. The DIA includes the Missile and Space Intelligence Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which conducts analysis on ground-based anti-satellite systems and ground-based directed energy weapon systems.


More doubts are being raised about the Trump administration’s push to stand up a Space Force as an independent military service. A key concern: Administrative and personnel costs will eat up procurement and training accounts. “The money to pay for these costs has to come from somewhere. People cost money,” said Wes Hallman, of the National Defense Industrial Association. Historically it has been shown that “additional overhead doesn’t usually translate into benefits for the warfighter.”

COMPETITION FOR RESOURCES Industry consultant Loren Thompson predicts an independent Space Force will launch an “endless competition to see which service claims which missions — and the budget resources associated with those missions.” The Air Force won’t just lose control of satellites and their ground stations — it will also probably lose responsibility for intercontinental ballistic missiles, warfighter networks and many cyberspace functions.

So much Space Force talk also is stirring anxiety about international space security. I spoke about this with Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College. “Space security is usually a pretty esoteric field but it’s now coming to the forefront because of the Space Force announcement.”

Last week I talked to about the militarization of space. You can watch the video here


Much attention is being paid at the Pentagon these days to China’s developments in hypersonic weapons — which fly at least five times the speed of sound and don’t follow a predictable path. Senior defense officials have sounded alarms about the hypersonic threat and the Missile Defense Agency is working on a plan for how to respond. The Pentagon’s annual report on the People’s Republic of China military capabilities says China is “developing technologies it perceives are necessary to counter U.S. and other countries’ ballistic missile defense systems, including maneuverable re-entry vehicles, decoys, chaff, jamming, thermal shielding, and hypersonic glide vehicles.”

We are expecting to get more insight into how the Trump administration views the hypersonic weapons challenge in the Pentagon’s “Missile Defense Review,” a document that was scheduled to be released in early 2018. Its delay has stirred speculation that the hypersonic defense issue has complicated matters.

“MISSILE & AIR DEFENSE” Because of the complexity of defending against hypersonic weapons — especially in the midcourse and terminal phase when they fly at low altitudes and switch directions — it is possible that the Missile Defense Review may have to be recast as a “missile and air defense review,” says Henry “Trey” Obering, executive vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton and a former director of the Missile Defense Agency.

The review has been a contentious process. There are people in DoD who are not convinced the U.S. should build a missile shield and instead should rely on strategic deterrence, Obering told me. Others believe “we have to have the capability and the capacity to defeat and destroy anything, including anything that the Chinese and Russians throw at us.”

GLOBAL NETWORK NEEDED To defeat hypersonic threats when they are in space and closer to Earth, DoD has to figure out how to mesh air and missile defense sensors and interceptor weapons so they operate as a single network. “That challenge has to be stepped up to,” Obering said. A similar debate unfolded when adversaries started developing ballistic missiles.

“For many years we could not to anything about the ballistic missile threat. We relied on mutually assured destruction when the Soviets were the threat. But we realized this may not work when there’s other countries developing missiles we can’t defend against.” The result was the missile shield that is now in place to shoot down North Korean ICBMs.

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER “Now we have a threat that not only flies between the air and missile defense environments, it flies between our organizational seams,” said Obering. Different services and agencies oversee different pieces of air and missile defense. “We need a united team to address this.”


The more countries share information about what’s happening in space, the better off the world will be. That is the thinking behind U.S. efforts to enlist partners in space and it was a theme during Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ visit to South America last week. U.S. Strategic Command and Brazil’s Ministry of Defense signed a space situational awareness agreement that will “allow us to share information about more than 23,000 objects in orbit, to include Brazil’s satellites,” Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael said in a statement to SpaceNews. “The secretary’s directive to transform the relationship makes this an opportune time to collaborate in space.”

This agreement is “part of a larger effort to build a closer defense partnership with Brazil that will enhance each nation’s awareness within the space domain, increasing the safety of their spaceflight operations,” Rear Adm. Richard Correll, U.S. Strategic Command’s director of plans and policy, said in a news release.

Brazil joins 14 nations — the United Kingdom, the Republic of Korea, France, Canada, Italy, Japan, Israel, Spain, Germany, Australia, Belgium, the United Arab Emirates, Norway and Denmark — two intergovernmental organizations, the European Space Agency and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, and over 70 commercial satellite owner/operator/launchers that are already participating in SSA data-sharing agreements with U.S. Strategic Command.

SSA DATA ESSENTIAL to launch support, satellite maneuver planning, support for on-orbit anomalies, electromagnetic interference reporting and investigation, and satellite decommissioning. Correll said the U.S. government will “continue to partner with space-faring entities to promote the responsible, peaceful, and safe use of space.”


Celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and researcher-collaborator Avis Lang are out with a new book, “Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military,” which probes the close connections between science, technology and the military industrial complex. They go back in time, looking at the technological progress achieved and making the case that science really can’t be separated from warfare. “The overlap is strong, and the knowledge flows in both directions,” the authors say. Astrophysicists and military strategists pursue similar goals and can be said to be “curiously complicit.”

The universe is both the ultimate frontier and the highest of high grounds, “shared by both space scientists and space warriors, it’s a laboratory for one and a battlefield for the other. The explorer wants to understand it; the soldier wants to dominate it. But without the right technology — which is more or less the same technology for both parties — nobody can get to it, operate in it, scrutinize it, dominate it, or use it to their advantage and someone else’s disadvantage.”

Not a subscriber? Let’s fix that.

Subscribe to SN Military.Space newsletter

* indicates required

SpaceNews Lists

SpaceNews Inc. will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp’s privacy practices here.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...