Sure, we’re paraphrasing one of many worthy quotes from “The Jerk.” And our response is the same as the scripted response in that movie:
“Well, we wish we could get so excited about nothing.”
To be clear, there are some good things in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), such as a pay raise for service members and paid parental leave for Federal workers. But the creation of the Space Force is the headliner, and, frankly, the only news about that topic is that there’s no real news (in the short-term).
What can we expect from the newly-established Space Force?
- Consolidation of USAF activities, though no indication of how/when/if other services branches (Army, Navy, USMC, SMC) will fold in their space professionals.
- We view it as highly unlikely that IC (intelligence community) space activities join the Space Force
- No near-term impact on procurement practices or overall space budget
- No near-term impact on the mission
- In the long term, U.S. military “space culture” will change unpredictably but with net positive impacts to its procurement effectiveness and overall military space readiness
Slow consolidation of defense-wide space billets
Your culture will adapt to service us. – The Borg
The people currently in space-related Air Force Specialty Codes (and civilian support positions) will almost certainly be swapped over to the Space Force. As of 2018, the Space Foundation counted slightly over 11,600 of those billets in the USAF. But the Army has nearly 5,000 billets in the form of FA40 Space Professionals and Space Enablers. The Navy and its Marines have an additional ~500 personnel with space operations duties, too. How do they, if required, get assimilated into the Space Force? When? Does their baseline knowledge and experience equal those of a USAF space operator?
Highly unlikely that IC (intelligence community) space activities join the Space Force
This past summer, the U.S. Space Command and NRO formed a joint command structure for space operations. However, the NRO opposes any proposal to merge the 3,000 NRO employees with the Space Force.
Due to sizable cultural and mission differences, we see it as highly unlikely that IC space activities more broadly will fall under the Space Force umbrella (either near- or longer-term) except in the event of a military conflict that puts IC assets at risk.
No near-term impact on procurement practices
If people are expecting this Space Force to go on a buying binge of all things space, they will be sorely disappointed. Many of the same people running acquisitions for space in the USAF (SMC 2.0) will likely run acquisitions for the Space Force—even with the newly-hatched Space Development Agency (SDA) under its wing. Those space contracts worked by USAF acquisitions will be moved into the Space Force side.
There will be no sudden rush to order construction of X-301 interceptors or Prometheus-class capital starships. Instead, existing mundane but necessary programs like GPS OCX will continue to bedevil this new service. The service will probably remain very interested in existing EO/GEOINT and satcom-oriented solutions. Sadly, the Space Force might not even be able to address an overhaul of acquisitions because the service will be busy trying to keep its head above water, personnel- and budget-wise, at least in the near term.
No near-term impact on the mission
There are no whispers of the sudden emergence of microgravity-experienced combat troops. The technically feasible act of robotic offensive operations in space appears more of a concept than a reality. Instead, the Space Force will be dedicated to supporting the other services’ terrestrial operations. As the space operators do now for the USAF, so they will do for the Space Force—at least for a little while.
This is all to reiterate that things probably won’t change for a while when the Space Force comes into being. But for those within that service, maybe it means their careers are guided by more informed criteria and leadership from actual space operators. That’s something maybe the fledgling service can immediately initiate. Which would help encourage changes in many other facets of the Space Force. We will consider longer-term implications of a Space Force in subsequent research.
Another possible immediate change: the space operations “spings” badge might go the way of the dodo. Wings are never necessary in space.