WASHINGTON — One of the goals of the U.S. Space Force is to fill its ranks with expert operators who can command and control satellites but also can protect them from anti-satellite weapons and cyber attacks.

The expertise that Space Force leaders call “space warfighting skills” will take years to build. The space service is being formed with U.S. Air Force officers and enlisted operators who will lateral over. At the same time, the Space Force plans to begin developing its own cadre of officers who will be steeped in the intricacies of orbital operations.

It is important to “build depth” in the Space Force, said Brig. Gen. DeAnna Burt, director of Space Force operations and communications at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

As a space officer growing up in the Air Force, “we were jacks of all trades but masters of none,” Burt said in a May 6 video interview with retired Col. Daniel Dant, of the Space Force Association.

That will change, Burt said. Starting this year, graduates of the Air Force undergraduate space training school who transition to the Space Force will have the option to pursue specialized career tracks such as orbital warfare, space electronic warfare, space battle management, and space access and sustainment.

Just like graduates of Air Force pilot training choose a specialized career track flying fighters, bombers or large airlift planes, space professionals will have their own career tracks focused on space missions.

The new undergraduate space training class graduated last month at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. They will head to Colorado Springs this summer for “space warfighter follow on” traning and will bid for one of the new career tracks, Burt said.

The specialization will continue beyond that as operators start working on specific weapon systems “so you start building that depth,” she said.

“It’s going to take 10 years before those individuals are squadron commanders and squadron superintendents,” she said. These will be the experts who will shape Space Force doctrine and strategy. “That’s how the culture is going to change as well,” she said. “But it takes time. I wish it would go faster but it just takes time.”

Threats to U.S. satellites

Space Force leaders said the service has to prepare for the possibility that countries like China or Russia will target U.S. satellites with missiles or electronic weapons. Much less sophisticated attacks are also worrisome, said Burt. “It’s a lot easier as an enemy to come at us with a wifi connection and a laptop and try to cyber hack things than it is to go to the harder things like ASATs,” she said.

A priority for the Space Force will be to invest in training technologies like simulators to help operators visualize the space environment. “We have to train our crews in very high fidelity sims,” said Burt.

The Space Force plans to start standing up an “orbital warfare wing” in Colorado Springs where operators and leaders of future squadrons will train.

One of the long-term challenges for the Space Force, said Burt, will be to communicate to the public why losing a satellite endangers national security.

“Historically when you look at what is a threat to the United States of America we typically look at things where there’s a human life that is lost,” she said. “Satellites don’t have moms.”

What has to be explained are “second and third order affects,” Burt said. “A human did not die instantaneously when a satellite was taken out.” The loss of a satellite, however, means losing a capability on the battlefield, which could cost lives.

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...