NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As the Pentagon considers which military personnel could become part of the new U.S. Space Force, leaders with the Navy and Marine Corps have expressed confidence troops will continue to execute the space mission no matter the service to which they’re assigned.
“With regard to where our personnel are at, I can’t speak to what’s on their mind except that I know that interacting with our space operators, they’re dedicated to the mission,” Rear Adm. Christian Becker, head of Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, said during a May 6 panel at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference.
“I know within the services, the dedication and passion of our space professionals will not alter. They’ll deliver on a mission call,” Becker added.
Brig. Gen. Lorna Mahlock, the Marine Corps’ director of command, control, communications and computers, doubled down on that sentiment.
“The folks that we have in this space are passionate and committed to the mission, so as soon as they get the mission, whatever you tell them to do, they’ll salute and they’ll deliver,” she said.
The establishment of a Space Force is the most visible element of a large-scale reorganization of the military’s space enterprise currently under debate within the Defense Department and Congress. While only Congress can create a new branch of the military, President Donald Trump has signed off on the establishment of U.S. Space Command, a new unified combatant command that will oversee space operations.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is leading an effort to create a detailed implementation plan for the Space Force so that the service — which will initially reside under the Department of the Air Force — can be stood up within a matter of years.
The establishment of a Space Force headquarters is planned for fiscal 2020, and billets will be transferred to the new service in the following years. By FY24, the Space Force will be comprised of about 15,000 personnel, according to the Pentagon’s strategic overview, which did not provide a service-by-service breakdown.
The Marine Corps and Navy are providing input on the detailed Space Force implementation plan, Mahlock and Becker said.
However, Becker cited an aspect of how the Navy organizes its space personnel that could complicate the decision on whether to redirect those billets toward the Space Force.
“Our officers and sailors that are involved in the mission areas that touch on space are also very involved in other mission areas,” he said. For example, a space acquisition officer might also have in-depth knowledge about aerospace engineering or information warfare.
“In the acquisition of space-based capabilities, they bring their knowledge and capabilities and their strengths to that acquisition fight, and then they bring what they had gained from the space acquisition fight back to delivering naval capabilities,” he said. “So it is much more of a broad base of mission area for our folks, particularly in the acquisition domain.”
Mahlock said the reorganization of the space enterprise — especially the establishment of U.S. Space Command — could provide an opportunity for the Marine Corps to be “really vocal" about what the Marine air-ground task force “can do in that global fight.”
However, she acknowledged that the Marine Corps, like its sister services, is still figuring out how to develop and retain the “exquisite talent” that is in the space-based force.
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.