The U.S. Space Force: Birthing Pains

By Theresa Hitchens

The Space Force is negotiating with the Army and Navy to integrate many of their space-related personnel, functions and operations.

“Their primary interest and area of concern is they want to ensure that that we do not separate out and transfer those elements and functions that they consider vital and integrated into their missions and their roles … what they would consider, you know, an integrated combat element,” Lt. Gen. David Thompson, Space Force vice commander, said today.

“If the purpose is to ensure they’re using space effectively, then we certainly don’t want it,” he added, “but if it’s a matter of the conduct of operations in the domain and bringing bringing unity of effort there, that’s probably [to be moved.]”

The service talks should mean that “later this year, in 2022, and perhaps in 2023 as well, we will be realigning some of those functions.”

While saying he didn’t wish to speak for his sister services, Thompson stressed during a Mitchell Institute video conference that as the discussions proceed about how to build out the Space Force, a key part of DoD’s approach has been, essentially the same as the physician’s oath of ‘do no harm.’

“Our approach has always been, in creating an effective US Space Force, that we can’t break the other services,” he said. “We can’t break the US Air Force. We can’t break the Army. We can’t break the Navy.”

Thompson explained that part of the inter-service discussion has focused on “establishing what I’ll call ‘the agreed-to criteria’ for what functions, what missions, what units, what personnel are the candidates for transfer into the service and what sorts of things ought to remain behind.”

He elaborated:

“If the purpose of this space unit, these base personnel, this function is to ensure that the service in question has effective use of space capabilities —  whether it’s the Army or the Navy, or the Marine Corps or the Air Force —  either:

those units and those personnel need to stay behind and we need to ensure that they’re integrated effectively with the Space Force;

or, if the agreement is allow those functions and those personnel to transfer or volunteer for transfer, then, in some way shape or form, either the Space Force gives that capability back in terms of embedding those people back into that service, or we find another mechanism.”

recent study by RAND Corp’s Project Air Force, for example, argued that the Army’s Future Warfare Center and Technical Center’s missions specific to space should move to Space Force, along with space-related activities at Army Research Laboratory. Ditto for the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (now NIWC) and Navy Research Laboratory. RAND further argued that the Army’s 1st Space Battalion, under the 1st Space Company, that uses the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites to provide missile warning to Army commanders should be transferred to Space Force.

Thompson noted that most of the issues with how Air Force personnel, operations and functions would be moved  to the Space Force already have been ironed out. As Breaking D readers know, the Space Force legally falls under the Department of the Air Force, in the same way that the Marine Corps falls under the Navy. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett back in March mandated that 23 units, representing some 1,840 billets, would be seconded to the Space Force; and the application period for airmen wishing to transfer to the Space Force opened May 1.

Thompson said that thousands of applications have been received, noting with a laugh that quite a few were posted on May 4 — the official Star Wars fan day of celebration, with the motto: ‘May the 4th Be With You.’

In response to Breaking D’s question about whether he believes a new roles and missions review needs to be done to best accommodate the Space Force and Space Command, Thompson said in his view it’s a bit early to make that call.

“It’s possible that will be needed in the future, but I think my recommendation would be: first, let us work through these transfer analyses, these tasks we have to look at, the roles and missions and functions in these other areas, and see what consensus we reach.”

Outgoing Air Force Secretary Gen. David Goldfein said, in an interview with Breaking D in March, that he doesn’t believe this will require a fundamental revision of the current service roles and missions set out under the 1948 Key West agreement and the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act.

However, the nominee to replace him, Gen. Charles Brown, told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in answers to advanced policy questions preceding his May 7 confirmation hearing, that he believes that the time has come for a new roles and missions study — for many reasons, including the stand up of Space Force:

“The establishment of the Space Force in December 2019 under Title 10 means the time is ripe for a thorough re-examination of the joint force roles and missions, to include the Space Force and the consolidation of space roles and missions from other Services. This is an important discussion that is still ongoing with the other Services,” he said.

Another reason is the growing redundancy among the services in efforts to protect bases, he noted.

“With the growing threat and joint operations from more distributed locations, the roles and missions for base defense—from the fence line to all the way up to hypersonics—is worthy of discussion and review,” he said.

This article was published by Breaking Defense on May 12, 2020.