A rare congressional compromise, backed by the White House and set for a vote this week, will give birth to a new military service for space, with Colorado airmen forming the core cadre of the new Space Force.
Details on the new service were sparse Monday, but insiders say it will fall under the Department of the Air Force and have a composition similar to the Marine Corps, which falls under the Navy Department.
Getting the defense policy in place required a grand compromise between Democrats who run the House and Republicans who run the Senate. Both chambers had provided for a Space Force in their versions of the policy measure, but had major differences in other areas. The House, for instance, blocked using Pentagon money for a Trump administration initiative to build a fence along the Mexican border.
House Democrats reportedly agreed to approve the Space Force in exchange for Republican approval of three months of maternity and paternity leave for federal workers, including those who adopt children. The Space Force is included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which is expected to pass this week.
New Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, who was sworn into her post during a Nov. 2 event at the Air Force Academy, has pushed for the new service as a way to highlight the role space plays in American warfare and civilian life.
“Communication, navigation, information: everything is dependent upon space, but people don’t recognize that,” Barrett said Saturday at California’s Ronald Reagan National Defense Forum, according to the Air Force website. “There isn’t a constituency for space — even though almost everyone uses space before their first cup of coffee in the morning.”
The space force will include troops at Schriever and Peterson Air Force bases in Colorado Springs and at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora. Those troops will run the bulk of the military’s satellites, including the Global Positioning System and an array of communications and missile warning satellites.
Also likely to join the Space Force is the Army’s 1st Space Brigade, which is tasked with helping troops on the ground better user satellite assets. Colorado Springs, at least for now, is also home to U.S. Space Command, which was established this year to oversee the satellite efforts of all military services and to respond to conflicts that involve space.
The Space Force itself will be headed by a general at the Pentagon who will join the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
But the functional areas of the force will be run from Colorado, where Air Force Space Command at Peterson is already charged with training and equipping space troops.
While it will be big in the Pikes Peak region, the Space Force is set to be the military’s smallest service, with some estimating it will contain about 15,000 troops — more than 10,000 less than the number of soldiers at Fort Carson.
The space service is designed to start small and stay small. Most services for the space troops, from cooks and lawyers to military police and civil engineers, will come from the Air Force.
That allows the space service to focus on those who solely play a part in space activities.
The space service will likely get the bulk of its officers from the Air Force Academy, which has provided space-training to cadets for decades. It also saves the Space Force from having officer candidates called “space cadets.”
Still, the space service will need to assemble some of the trappings of a separate armed service. Details from a mission statement to a service song will soon be part of the debate.
Picking the leader for the new space force will also be on the Pentagon’s agenda. Two generals, one now in Colorado Springs and another with Colorado Springs ties, will likely be on the short list.
Gen. John Hyten, now the vice chairman of the joint chiefs, has led Peterson’s Air Force Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command in Nebraska. It would be a simple fix to change Hyten’s job title and leave him at the Pentagon.
Gen. Jay Raymond, who is now atop U.S. Space Command and Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, is the other likely contender.
More congressional work is needed before a Space Force can actually launch.
The Pentagon since Oct. 1 has been operating on short-term budget deals. Those measures leave the military living paycheck-to-paycheck with funding set at 2019 levels. And the 2019 budget doesn’t have money for a new armed service branch.
There’s an old saying in the space business: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”
That means a congressional budget deal, which could be a hard sell, must pass before the new service is created.