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During a visit to the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station on March 13, 2018, President Donald Trump revealed an idea he had. “You know, I was saying the other day because we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space, maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the Space Force,” Trump said. “And I was not really serious, and then I thought, ‘Maybe that’s a great idea. Maybe we’ll have to do that.'”
While the concept of space weapons is nothing new, Trump’s statement was prompted in part by his excitement about the recent increase in space research by SpaceX, Blue Origin, Orbital Sciences, ULA, and other private companies, as well as NASA. “You’re seeing the rockets going up left and right; you haven’t seen that for a long time,” he said. “Very soon we’re going to Mars.” What President Trump may not have known at the time, was that the concept of a space force had already been debated for years on Capitol Hill and inside the Pentagon.
The Planning Process
On June 18, 2018, President Donald Trump officially announced his plans for a Space Force, an independent military service branch to undertake missions and operations in the rapidly developing domain of space. Vice President Mike Pence and the Department of Defense released more details about the Space Force on August 9, 2018, citing plans to create a Department of the Space Force, and setting an ambitious timeline in which the Space Force would be expected to be established between 2020 and 2024.
Immediately following Pence’s announcement in August, the Pentagon released a report that detailed some of the Department of Defense’s immediate actions for creating the Space Force:
- Establish a Space Development Agency – This is an agency tasked with developing and testing new and improved national security capabilities and technology in space.
- Establish a Space Operations Force – This force will be a collection of space experts from throughout the military who will provide needed expertise.
- Create a United States Space Command – Led by a four-star general or flag officer, the new space command would direct space operations.
These three components would later be united to become the final Space Force, a.k.a. Space Corps. (The House version of the new service branch legislation uses the term “Space Corps,” while the Senate version sticks with “Space Force.”)
The Space Force Takes Flight
On March 1, 2019, the Department of Defense forwarded a Space Force proposal to Congress calling for a service that would fall under the Air Force in the same way the Marine Corps falls under the Department of the Navy. The proposal also included the designation of a new position: undersecretary of the Air Force for space, a civilian position that would answer to the secretary of the Air Force and oversee the Space Force. The proposal of the formation of a Space Force as a sixth branch of the military was included in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act under the name of the United States Space Corps.
The House Armed Services Committee voted to approve the establishment of the U.S. Space Corps on June 13, 2019. The Senate bill also passed with strong bipartisan support. “It does recognize and creates a Space Force,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. This means that Trump’s Space Force is for real and it’s been fully funded. There will be a one-year transition period between the Air Force and the Space Corps, beginning on January 1, 2021. The Committee has given both entities a little leeway, setting a final deadline for its completion on December 31, 2023.
On August 29, 2019, President Donald Trump ushered in the U.S. Space Command to lead the way by coordinating space-related activities ranging from communications to missile detection warning systems among the five existing military branches — Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. The key assets to be defended are the Global Positioning System satellites, which have become essential for civilian scientific and commercial services as well as military operations. In addition, military experts have pointed to the challenges posed by China and Russia in the realms of hypersonic space vehicles and anti-satellite weapons.
Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs is where the Space Command and 21st Space Wing are currently headquartered. The Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), located in Wahiawa, Hawaii, is possibly slated to come under the umbrella of Space Command soon. The Air Force is also constructing a new space control technology building at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. This facility is due to be completed by January of 2021.
Transition from Air Force to Space Corps
Once it’s up and running, the U.S. Space Corps will be the first new military service in more than 70 years, following the establishment of the U.S. Air Force in 1947. In an interview with Space.com, Michael Dodge, assistant professor in the Department of Space Studies at the University of North Dakota, compared the creation of a Space Force with the birth of the Air Force in the 20th century.
The early version of the U.S. Air Force existed as the U.S. Army Air Corps, an aerial warfare sector of the U.S. Army. But as planes continued to advance technologically and find their way into mainstream travel, “Congress decided they needed to have a new branch of the military,” Dodge said. The country needed a separate but equal branch that could “address issues unique to this domain.”
The Space Force would essentially serve the same purpose, but for space. Dodge noted that a space-oriented, sixth military branch makes perfectly good sense, as space is an excellent high ground from which to gain a military advantage. Besides, it would “free up the Air Force to focus on what it does best.” Along with performing independent space operations, the Space Force will be responsible for providing space support to land, air, naval, and cyber forces.
“[O]ur assets are so critical in outer space and everything that we do is so dependent on outer space that we need a new force capable of focusing on that domain by itself,” Dodge stated. “This reality becomes clear when you see that pilots and space guys don’t understand each others’ career paths,” NASA astronaut Terry Virts told SpaceNews. Space operations demand unique skills like understanding orbits and calibrating sensors, he said. “It’s not flying F-16s.”
Space Corps Recruitment
The Space Corps will be the Pentagon’s smallest service. Still, officials estimate the creation of a new military branch will require 15,000 personnel including enlisted, officers, and civilians. The Pentagon will work to move personnel into the service over the next several years. At first, most of these people will be transferred into the Space Force from the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. After that, there will be a strong emphasis on recruitment. This will likely take the shape of a personnel and training center, officials said. There are no plans yet for a separate Space Force Academy. Although right now there is nothing to join and no positions to occupy, there are some ways in which you can prepare for a career in the Space Force.
The criteria for joining the Space Corps will probably be similar to current requirements for space-related specializations within the Air Force. So if you’re thinking of joining the Space Force, then you should take a closer look at existing positions in the Air Force. Major General Jeannie Leavitt, speaking at the Air, Space and Cyber Symposium in September, said: “Whatever it looks like, Space Force, Space Corps, whatever, it’s going to come from the Air Force. And so that’s always the guidance I give.”
Building technical expertise in a scientific field is one sure route to entry in the Space Force, either as a member of the U.S. armed services or as a civilian contractor. Ideally, you should major in Aerospace Engineering or Astronautical Engineering. Recommended skills include: Electronics, Electrical Engineering, Robotics, Mechatronics, Computer Programming, Software Engineering, Material Sciences, and strong technical aptitude for maintenance and repair. Someday there may be a military astronaut corps, though the specific roles of space fighters have yet to be defined.
The Air Force is currently developing 30-second recruitment ads for the Space Force, with the goal of boosting Air Force recruitment. These ads will depict young people building and working in the new frontier of space. Be on the lookout for them to appear on social media sometime in the near future. If you love space or have always wanted to be an astronaut, but can’t get a job at NASA or SpaceX, the Space Corps may be the place for you!
Would you like to join the nation’s newest military service? Why or why not?