When the Air Force Academy’s Class of 2020 graduates this spring, roughly 60 cadets will likely cross-commission into the Space Force, much as the U.S. Naval Academy commissions Marine officers.
The plan for cross-commissioning, which officials emphasize is fluid, was announced Wednesday at an oversight Board of Visitors meeting at the school, attended by academy brass and members of Colorado’s congressional delegation.
Seniors who will be commissioned this spring into the new branch — formed in December with the signing of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act — will likely share the same job field: space operations.
“They’re doing Air Force Academy curriculum, and they’ll just be directly commissioned into the Space Force,” academy Vice Superintendent Col. Houston Cantwell said.
Talks are underway about offering juniors interested in joining the Space Force multiple job fields from which to choose, perhaps including intelligence, cyber, acquisitions and engineering.
Next month, Cantwell will lead a contingent from the academy to the U.S. Naval Academy to observe how the school commissions officers in separate services.
“We don’t think the Naval Academy has the solution, but they have a solution,” he said.
When asked if the Naval Academy and West Point are looking at cross-commissioning cadets into the Space Force, Cantwell responded, “Not similarly.”
“We are looking to be the organization that commissions into Space Force,” he said.
A colonel stationed at Peterson Air Force Base who formerly supervised academy cadets is serving as a liaison between the Space Force and the school and will launch its Space Force detachment this summer, Cantwell added.
The cooperation between Space Force and Air Force Academy “is incredibly significant,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, who was at Wednesday’s meeting, along with U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs.
“It’s important for the Air Force Academy’s long-term mission, and not only in near-term Air Force strategy, but long-term space strategy and tactics,” Gardner said. “To have that sort of core knowledge here, to have the thinkers and the leaders from here will mean a lot for the Air Force Academy, for Colorado Springs, Colorado, overall, and for our national security mission.”
Lamborn spoke of the “synergy” that will occur among Peterson, Schriever and Buckley Air Force bases and the academy, and the benefit of being able to “send cadets across town to see space operations and talk to space operators.”
But Wednesday’s discussion centered less on logistics and more on broad questions, like those posed by Cantwell: “How do we inform cadets about what Space Force is about? How do we inspire cadets to want to be a part of this? How do we ultimately commission cadets into the Space Force?”
“There is no shortage of challenges in that space,” Cantwell said. “What seems so simple can be so difficult.”