Space exploration is still the next frontier… and it’s been happening for 80 years in the military
The history of the U.S. Space Force goes back long before President Trump directed the Pentagon to create a "Space Force" in June of 2018. But the history of space and the military actually goes back to shortly after the end of World War II.
General Hap Arnold was an early visionary of the potential of space operations. He directed the RAND Corporation to determine the feasibility of satellite for strategic communications in 1946. That study identified nearly all of the current space mission areas: intelligences, weather forecasting, communications and navigation. The Air Force's role in space remained constant leading up to Air Force Space Command's creation. During the Cold War, space operations focused on missile warning, launch operations, satellite control, space surveillance and command and control for national leadership. During Desert Storm, AFSPC showed their importance for supporting the Warfighter.
Then, in 2001, the Space Commission recommended that Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) give up Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) to AFSPC. Due to the nature and importance of space, AFSPC was the only command to have their own acquisition arm within the command. In 2002, AFSPC was given their own four-star commander, a position that had previously been split between AFSPC and NORAD. In 2005, AFSPC was given the control of cyber, but it was later forced to give up that responsibility in 2018. This move allowed AFSPC to focus on gaining and maintaining space superiority and outpacing adversaries.
In August 2019, the AFSPC commander was assigned the dual-hat responsibility of U.S. Space Command Commander and on December 20, 2019, with the signing of the National Defense Acquisition Act (NDAA) the United States Space Force was born.
For those outside the space community, the idea of a Space Force felt outlandish and people wondered what this Space Force would do. Would they fight wars in space? Why is space so important that a whole new military branch was created? And with much of the work within the Space Force and AFSPC classified, many people do not know the role and scope of why a Space Force was created. But if you do some research you will learn that both China and Russia already have their own version of a Space Force and America needed to take this crucial step forward to maintain space superiority.
For many years, the role and scope of space have been growing and the "wars" being fought in space have been happening hidden behind layers of classification. Even everyday tools that Americans use like Global Positioning Systems (GPS), cell phones and more, rely on the technology created to keep our country safe and on the leading age of this new frontier. With the recent success of private companies such as Space X, the role and scope of space is changing. The military needs a branch of its own to help continue the innovation and keep up with this changing climate.
So where are we now? The Air Force opened the window for organic space career fields (such as Space Operations and Space Systems Operations) and common career fields (such as Intelligence, Cyber, Engineering and Acquisitions) to apply for transfer to the U.S. Space Force from May 1-31, 2020. For those within the organic space career fields, they were given the option to transfer, retrain to a new career field or leave the military. The transfer for organic space career fields is set to begin on September 1, 2020. For common career fields, each career field board will meet to determine what members who applied will be accepted to the Space Force. The transfer for all Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSC) is expected to be completed by February 1, 2021. Army, Navy and Marine Corps transfers are still being worked and are expected to take place in FY 22/23. Those who choose to transfer will incur a two-year service commitment.
Those who have decided to apply for the transfer are now in the wait and see bucket. Waiting to find out what the military board decides to do and waiting to see how this change will impact where they are stationed and what their future will be. While many people are already in a Space Force billet there will be new Space Force members who will need to be reassigned to a new unit based on their choice to join the Space Force. The Air Force and Space Force are still working out the details on how these changes will happen and how and when they will take place.
Those who are waiting to join the military's newest branch have a bit of excitement as this historic change takes place. With new information being released as it becomes available the excitement and uncertainty makes this an interesting time to be serving in the military. The Space Force is a new branch that will allow space to take its role in the forefront of our nation's security. And while still so much of what happens within the Space Force is unknown, we know the impacts of what is happening will change the world we live in.