The chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force displays the service’s uniform name tapes at the Pentagon Jan. 17. The Space Force is the sixth branch of service that was established during the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act on Dec. 20, 2019. 

The U.S. Space Force rank structure for enlisted personnel and officers announced this week largely mirrors those of the U.S. Air Force, with a few exceptions.

Space Force will use specialist for its E-1 through E-4 ranks, while the Air Force uses airman.

Specialist ranks were created in the Army and used heavily in the 1950s to the 1970s to signify enlisted troops who earned their higher grande through technical skill. Now the Army has the rank of specialist for the bulk of its E-4s.

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The E-5 Space Force rank is sergeant, similar to the Air Force rank of staff sergeant. All other enlisted and officer ranks mirror those of the Air Force, its parent service. The new rank structure became effective Feb. 1.

“Ranks have evolved from the 17th and 18th century to the present,” said Richard Kohn, former chief of Air Force history in the Pentagon and professor emeritus of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “There has always been basic similarity between all of the services except for the Navy. That the Space Force would adopt similar ranks is not surprising because they would want to have equivalence with the other services. You don’t want to be lost in the plethora of different Armed Services.”

Kohnn is a fan of the nation's newest armed service, which celebrated its first birthday in December.

“If you really think you are going to need to engage in operations in space, accelerate the technology, the resources, the expertise, then there is no real harm in having a separate Space Force provided you don’t invest very much money in the overhead.," he said. "The Space Force by nature, I think, is going to be quite small for the foreseeable future.”

Space Force was established within the Department of the Air Force when Air

Force Space Command's troops were redesignated as United States Space Force.

In December 2020, it was announced the men and women serving as space professionals would generically be called Guardians.

The new service arose from increasing concern about increasing U.S. reliance on satellites for combat on the air, sea or land. American rivals have honed their capabilities to target American satellites in orbit, driving a need to defend the nation's space assets.

The Space Force exists as part of the larger Air Force Department in a manner similar to how the Marines fall under the Navy.

Now, the Space Force wears Air Force uniforms with only the words "Space Force" on display to distinguish its troops.

Next up for the service will be new rank insignia and, someday, distinct uniforms.

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