Top 10 things Space Force needs on Day One

Top 10 things Space Force needs on Day One
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As the debate on Space Force heads to conference committee, there are a number of things that must be directed and overseen by Congress. Only with legal direction can there be any hope that the necessary elements will be in place from the start of the new organization. Here are the top 10 things the Space Force needs on Day One:

1. A congressionally defined and supported role

In 1948, the “Key West Agreement” articulated the roles of the various services, replacing the direction from the prior year’s executive order 9877. In point of fact, the Key West Agreement (or the Surrender at Key West) was really a policy paper from Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, designed to secure prerogatives for the Navy at the expense of the fledgling Air Force. Air Force leaders at the time were so concerned about safeguarding exclusive responsibility for strategic bombardment, that they failed to well delineate service-distinct missions across the remainder of the military aviation spectrum.


The Space Force mission should not derive from an executive order, subject to revocation or revision, nor should it originate from some inter-service agreement where the need to compromise results in the most experienced beltway insider gaining the most advantage. 

While an actual mission statement, may evolve with technology and events, the role of the new service and its specific lanes within the greater defense establishment should be enshrined in U.S. Code by the Congress, who authorizes and pays for it. Ensuring thus, that its primary mission justifies its reason for existing.

2. All U.S. military space assets

However, you feel about carrier aviation, the consequences of the Key West Agreement are still causing troubling ripples to this day. Today, there are four services presenting aviation assets and competing for aviation dollars (five if you count the Coast Guard.) Rival aircraft development — or worse congressionally mandated joint aircraft procurements, have often drawn out acquisition timelines — increased costs and reduced the effectiveness of the final, compromise platform. The never-ending and over-budget procurement of the (otherwise impressive) F-35 is but one example of this outcome.

It may make sense for the other services to operate spacecraft in the future, but at the start of the Space Force, all pure military space missions should be part of the new service. This will serve to keep mission and acquisition lines very clear in this vital and formative period. It will also ensure that the other services, while competing for their share of the defense pie, don’t undermine the space force, on which they will be highly dependent, since they will have no space assets of their own.

3. A fully open and socialized implementation plan


Whatever organization is created by conference committee, it will not be the final version of Space Force. Various congressional leaders have already said as much. Space Force will evolve as requirements, budgets and policy dictate. With that in mind, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Space Force leadership should have a 20-year roadmap for the new military branch: what people, what missions, what systems and what structures are needed for Space Force 2040. 

This roadmap should be public, socialized and updated as policy changes or adversary behaviors dictates. But it should always be there, to tell military space personnel (and perhaps the policy establishment) where they and the Space Force are going. Without such a road map, the Space Force will be a collection of rudderless organizations subject to the whims of the moment, stymieing progress and diminishing the organization’s potential.

4. Bold leadership, ready to drive change

The secretary of Defense must find space warfighters to lead the organization. It is well and good to be steeped in and committed to terrestrial support operations, but that will not be enough. The new service will require bold leadership, willing to break glass and hurt feeling in order to establish a dominant space superiority organization , which can then assure the continuance of terrestrial support from space.

It may even be necessary to look for a nontraditional solution outside of the space operations career field or even the Air Force itself. 

5. A distinct and appropriate organizational structure

All Space Force personnel, not specifically assigned to joint billets, must report through a chain with the Senior Space Officer at its head. The person leading the Space Force must be the nation’s senior uniformed space authority and the top of the personnel pyramid for every military space professional. How the structure beneath that leader lays out is subject to requirements which will, no doubt, evolve over time. But that structure must be tailored to the mission and culture of the Space Force, without any concern for maintaining Air Force or Napoleonic organizational traditions. 

6. A fair number of people who were never airmen

If the new Space Force is made up exclusively of former airmen, generating the necessary cultural change to fashion a space-minded force will be difficult. The 13S (Space Operations) community within the Air Force, while in some ways distinct, are highly air-centric in their thinking and almost entirely terrestrially focused. Only a mix of varied service ideas, cultures and approaches will create successful Space Force. This becomes especially important since the new service seems destined to remain as junior partner within Department of the Air Force for the foreseeable future.

7. A new rank structure and uniform combination

If the Space Force continues using Air Force rank and uniforms, military space professionals will slowly reintegrate into the Air Force simply by osmosis. If they look and sound the same, they will eventually be treated the same. Brent Ziarnick at Air University has argued the Space Force should adopt naval rank. Alternatively, it could be something entirely new, perhaps modeled after the Royal Air Force’s composite naval/aviation rank structure

Further, as I have written elsewhere, there is no need for an expensive new uniform design. With five military services, and literally dozens of uniform combinations, it is entirely possible to build a new uniform combination that is at once distinct and appropriate to the space service. 

What is critical is that Space Force personnel are presented (in name and appearance) as Space Force personnel and not simply as more airmen. These steps are vital to creating service culture and gaining understanding in the joint warfighting and planning environments. And despite what some may say, neither need be a very expensive endeavor.

8. New commissioning, enlistment and personnel development structures

When the Army created the Air Service (a precursor to the Air Corps) aircrew were given new commissions, to make clear they were no longer Army infantry, cavalry or engineering officers. Whatever role they were to play in the Army, it would be as airmen. It delineated a clear break in how they were managed as a personnel resource and what was expected of them as officers. This change was a critical institutional recognition that they were now a different kind of officer — an airman. 

It is vitally important that new commissions and enlistments be issued for those who transfer to the space force, demonstrating the new contract between service and service-member and creating at least one common starting point for every military space professional. This change must be paired with a training and developmental path optimized for military space professionals to create a clean break with the past, a process the Air Force is only now taking the first fledgling steps of initiating.

9. New organizational branding

On Day one, the Space Force has to be ready to rebrand it offices, buildings and bases (if any) with logos, crests and signage that reflects the new Space Force identity. 


Just like when there is a change of command anywhere from the tactical unit level to the White House, the first thing everyone does is replace the names on the door and the pictures on the wall. This creates a clean delineation between the previous and new command and establishes clear organization chain to which loyalty is owed. Space Force imagery and branding will also have to be added to Air Force recruiting and training institutions until Space Force has developed its own.

10. A name for Space Force personnel

And before Space Force happens, there has to be a name we call Space Force personnel. “Military space professional” doesn’t cut it and “spacers” sounds like something you put between pieces of furniture. The Army has soldier, the Marine Corps has, well, marine and the Navy has sailor … even the sort of too-long coastguardsmen sounds better than “military space professional.” I have heard lots of suggestions (“space cadet,” “astroists” and my personal favorite “Maurice”). 

Whatever the title, it should be meaningful and instill a sense of pride. This is a critical element of identity which is already compromised by the jokes and science fiction references which have permeated the space force debate. An appropriate title must be found, so that military space professionals have a clear unifying identity.

With these elements in-place — and of course a dedicated budget — the Space Force will have a necessary organizational foundation, to build the military service the U.S. needs to face the challenges of the 21st century on earth orbit. 

Timothy Cox is a retired Air Force officer with decades of experience in Space Control, Counter-Space and Joint Operational Planning. He has served as the Chief of the Space Control Division at Headquarters Air Force, the deputy chief of staff at United States Air Forces Central Command, an assistant professor at the Joint Forces Staff College and has commanded at the squadron level. Based in the National Capital Region, he in employed in the satellite industry.