WASHINGTON — With a wave of his pen, President Donald Trump signed the Space Force into being on Dec. 20.
“This is a very big and important moment,” Trump said during a Friday ceremony at Joint Base Andrews where he signed off on the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill, which establishes the Space Force as a sixth military service under the Department of the Air Force.
“Space — there’s going to be a lot of things happening in space, because space is the world’s newest warfighting domain," he said. “America’s superiority in space is absolutely vital and we’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough, but very shortly we’ll be leading by a lot.”
Gen. John Raymond, who currently leads U.S. Space Command, will lead the Space Force as its first chief of space operations, Trump announced.
Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett — who is dual-hatted as the civilian leader of the Space Force — said that the establishment of the Space Force marked a “historic moment” for the U.S. military, and that the Defense Department is moving forward to stand up the new service.
“There has been a planning team that has been building the phased construction of this force and the development of the force so that we have a plan at the 30, 60 and 90 … and the 120 day [mark],” she said.
Raymond characterized the signing of the defense bill as “day one” for the Space Force.
“There are thousands and thousands of actions that are going to have to take place. Everything from what does a uniform look like, to a logo, to who is in the Space Force and who is not in the Space Force, and that work has been planned and will continue to be refined,” he said.
Air Force leaders stressed that much of the detailed planning work that will define the Space Force’s makeup and culture is still yet to be done, and that changes to its structure could occur along the way. But ahead of the president’s approval of the bill on Friday, officials spoke with reporters to lay out what is known about the new service:
Air Force Space Command is dead. Long live the Space Force. After the legislation was signed, Air Force Space Command was immediately redesignated the Space Force, and 16,000 active duty and civilian personnel from AFSPC will now be assigned to the Space Force.
But, technically speaking, there is only one person serving in the Space Force. The legislation gives Trump the authority to appoint a uniformed leader of the Space Force, known as the Chief of Space Operations. Trump tapped Raymond for that role during the ceremony.
However, the 16,000 personnel transferring from Air Force Space Command are currently still considered U.S. Air Force airmen until they decide to permanently transfer over to the Space Force.
“That would be a deliberate process that goes through in a voluntary manner that allows the individual airman to have a choice to where they go,” said one senior Air Force official who spoke to reporters on background. “We need to work through that and go through that in detail.”
While all space operators, and certain specialists in space acquisition, intelligence and engineering, for instance, will be eligible to permanently transfer over to the Space Force, those who work for AFSPC as civil engineers, security forces, lawyers and other jobs, will remain U.S. Air Force personnel, the official said.
The Army and Navy aren’t part of the Space Force. Yet. The legislation, as currently passed by Congress, only allows for the Air Force personnel to be transferred to the Space Force — a big change from the administration’s legislative proposal, which could have also wrapped in space-related elements of the Army and Navy.
However, the Defense Department’s longterm vision of the Space Force is to consolidate space operators across the different military branches inside a single service, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Stephen Kitay said.
Even though the Army and Navy will not initially be eligible to join the Space Force, there will be detailees from across the joint force be part of standing up the headquarters.
“Naturally the Army and Navy will be partners in this and over time will be fully engaged in it,” Barrett said, adding that the National Guard will also have a roll in Space Force development. “There have been Army and Navy participants in the planning and the development of the staged rollout that we have underway.”
A senior Air Force official added that the service plans to request authorization from Congress to include Army and Navy personnel in the Space Force.
Who will take over Space Force acquisition? That’s still to be determined. The legislation redesignates the Air Force secretary’s principal assistant for space as the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration. The only problem is that the role has been vacant since John Stopher left this summer.
The Air Force has a list of potential candidates who could take on the new title and has sought input from space experts and other stakeholders, Barrett said, but there’s no concrete timeline to appoint that individual. “We would anticipate that as something that would be in the next several phases,” she said.
All the fun cultural details — the Space Force emblem, what personnel will call themselves, whether they wear Star Trek uniforms — are still being formulated.
“It’s going to be really important that we get this right. A uniform. A patch. A song. It gets to the culture of a service,” Raymond said. “So we’re not going to be in a rush to get something, and not do that right. There’s a lot of work going on towards that end. I don’t think it’s going to take a long time to get that done, but that’s not something we’re going to roll out on day one.”
Air Force bases centered around space operations — specifically Peterson, Buckley and Schriever AFB in Colorado; Vandenberg AFB in California; Patrick AFB in Florida and others — will likely be renamed to reflect that they are Space Force bases, Raymond said.
The Space Force may also diverge from the Air Force’s organization into squadrons and wings, he said.
“We have an opportunity. We looked at and will continue to look at different organizational constructs,” Raymond said.
The hope is to nail down these details “much sooner than 18 months,” said a senior Air Force official who spoke to reporters on background.
Asked whether a red shirt was being considered as part of the Space Force uniform — an allusion to the Star Trek series, where personnel wearing red shirts were seen by the fanbase as being more frequently killed off than other characters — another senior Air Force official jokingly stated that particular color scheme is not currently under consideration.
If the Space Force budget is cut to $40 million, as proposed in the FY20 appropriations bill, it won’t be a huge deal. Barrett said that because the Space Force is being stood up almost one quarter into the fiscal year, it does not necessarily need the entire $72.4 million it requested in March.
“We will phase development according to what the budget provides. Yes, it’s less than what was requested but, yes, we’ll quite ably work with the amount that is appropriated,” she said.
It’s unclear whether the fiscal 2021 budget will have a separate Space Force budget. Barrett, Raymond and Kitay declined to give any specifics about next year’s Space Force budget.
“What we have done over the past several months, is we have provided options so that the secretary of defense can work it with the executive branch” and either give the Space Force its own budget or “have it rolled under a complete [Department of the] Air Force budget,” one Air Force official said.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.