October 24, 2018

Space Force


  • The Trump administration believes space has become a distinct warfighting domain, like land, air and sea, that requires a dedicated Space Force.
  • Today, many space assets fall under Air Force Space Command, but operational responsibility is spread among the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.
  • The Pentagon will submit proposals to Congress in early 2019 to create Space Force, which would represent the biggest military reorganization since the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986.

President Trump and the Department of Defense have proposed creating a Space Force to maintain America’s military dominance. It would represent the biggest reorganization of American military operations since passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986. The administration plans to submit a legislative proposal to Congress by February 2019. 


why propose a space force?

U.S. military leaders agree that control of space is essential to protect the nation. When asked about the need for a Space Force, Defense Secretary James Mattis explained: “We have no room for complacency in any domain. We recognize cyberspace and outer space as warfighting domains on par with air, land, and sea.” Under the military’s current structure, however, responsibility and control of the people, assets, and operations involving space are spread among several military organizations.  

The Department of Defense had a distinct Space Command from 1985 to 2002, but it was merged with U.S. Strategic Command as part of a previous reform. While many space assets such as satellites are today the responsibility of Air Force Space Command, the use of those assets and control of space operations are scattered throughout DOD and fall under several different chains of command. For instance, an Army soldier serving as a satellite controller in Hawaii may report to four different commands in three military branches at three different locations. Issues related to the soldier’s pay, assignment, promotion, and family readiness are handled by another command, in yet another location.  

America’s adversaries have greater capabilities in space today than even a few years ago, with new weapons to disrupt our space assets. The director of national intelligence testified last year that Russia and China are close to having anti-satellite weapons capable of tracking or jamming our satellites. The Chinese military created a new Strategic Support Force to centralize control over its capabilities in space and cyberspace. China’s ground-based anti-satellite weapons are nearly operational.

Advocates for a new Space Force argue the best way to address these threats is to cut the bureaucracy around space operations. Vice President Pence noted, “While our adversaries have been busy weaponizing space, too often we have bureaucratized it.” The Government Accountability Office has likewise found that management of space by DOD and the intelligence community has been fragmented in certain areas and overlapping in others because DOD lacks a single authority.

proposed new military space organizations

A Space Operations Force will provide the personnel and human resources capability for the new space organizations. DOD is identifying all U.S. military personnel who conduct or support space operations and may designate them as part of the Space Operations Force.

Options for the new force would be to transfer some or all of these space operators to the new Space Force in 2020 and to have all promotions and career management for space operations force to be managed by the new military branch.    

Vice President Pence explained on Ocotber 23 at a meeting of the National Space Council that Space Force “will not in the first instance look like other branches of the service that were stood up. It will be a consolidation, we believe, and from there future Congresses and future administrations can grow and expand and nurture ... the Space Force as they see fit."



Space Force: The administration will send Congress a detailed plan to create a new military department and branch for Space Force in early 2019.

Space Force would become operational in 2020 as a separate military branch and serve as the organization responsible for recruiting, training, organizing, and promoting its service members.   



Space Command: A new unified combatant command for space led by a four-star general or admiral. Space command would be in operational control of military units conducting space operations.

Scheduled for 2018  

Possible Comparison: U.S. Special Operations Command has control of all of DOD’s special forces units in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. USSOCOM organizes and commands special operations forces in global missions against U.S. adversaries. Space Command may similarly oversee DOD’s space units in the military branches.



Space Development Agency: A separate research and development agency that would produce space weapon systems and capabilities with a minimum of bureaucracy and red tape. 

Scheduled for 2019

Possible Comparison: Missile Defense Agency has a budget and acquisition structure different from the military branches. It is funded separately as a defense-wide program, with a small number of procurement line items to allow flexibility and speed to accelerate delivery of new missile defenses.   




Assistant secretary of defense for space: Intended to evolve into a secretary of space force, this civilian position will provide leadership, oversight, and accountability directly to the secretary of defense. 

Scheduled for 2019, with elevation to secretary in 2020

Possible Comparison: The assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict was created to ensure the prioritization of special operations forces with senior civilian defense officials. The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act required the senior civilian overseeing special operations forces to report independently to the secretary of defense.   


space force offers opportunity for reform

The creation of the Air Force in 1947 offers a potential look into how the military may organize Space Force. The Air Force came about as part of a larger reform that placed all military forces – land and sea – under the command of a single secretary of defense. Combining military forces under a single civilian authority below the president changed the way the nation’s military would fight in future wars. This reform was as important as a new, separate Air Force.

Opponents of Space Force argue the five existing military services already have difficulty operating jointly, and another branch may make things worse. For example, the Army and Air Force have fierce disagreements over issues such as close-air support, intra-theater transport, and unmanned aerial vehicles. This has caused duplication of capability in the two services.  

It took nearly four decades and another major effort by Congress in the Goldwater-Nichols Act for the military to realize the vision of a unified military command not based on military branches. Some of the progress from Goldwater-Nichols may have slipped, as Congress allows DOD to have 10 ‘unified’ combatant commands today. The reorganization that would be needed to create Space Force presents an opportunity for Congress to consider reforms to the way military branches are commanded in combat, recruited, paid, trained, equipped, and promoted. Reforms could also pare back the number of unified commands, the number of existing military organizations, and the ranks of the department’s other leaders.

Issue Tag: National Security