A Pilot’s View: The U.S. Space Force

Commentary By: Lt. Col. Ron Davis, USAF (Ret), Daedalian Life Member #238

The founding of the United States Space Force in 2019 marked a milestone in our defense establishment. It is the first new military service created since the U.S. Air Force in 1947. Its creation acknowledged the importance of space operations and advanced technology, both as a capability in and of itself, but more importantly as a set of tools that have become force multipliers for our warfighters.

     Founding the Space Force was certainly less contentious than the decades-long battle for an independent Air Force. We didn’t see any bombing of captured battleships, public accusations about safety or a very visible court-martial to sway public opinion. There wasn’t even a small group of air-minded junior officers at the then-Maxwell Field creating a fraternal order to advocate for and honor military aviation. While the concept had been discussed decades ago, in 2017, several influential congressional advocates pushed for its establishment. After getting endorsed by President Donald Trump, it was made part of the 2019 Defense Authorization Bill. 

     Partnered with the Air Force in the Department of the Air Force, the Space Force now boasts its own four-star leadership — highly experienced in space operations — a headquarters at the Pentagon and a personnel cadre. Many of its initial members, some 16,000 at this time, transferred from the Air Force; however, procedures are in place for personnel from other branches to transfer in. 

     According to USSF’s website, to minimize cost and duplication, the Department of the Air Force will continue to “provide support functions that includes logistics, base operating support, civilian personnel management, business systems, IT support, audit agencies, etc.” The enabling legislation mandated a “zero-sum” standup budget, with clearly worded guidance on avoiding duplication of efforts.

     Today’s Space Force bases are mission-centered and have long histories of supporting the space mission.

Buckley Space Force Base, Colorado, has a long history of space surveillance and missile warning operations. It now manages the legacy and developing systems for this highly technical task.

Los Angeles Space Force Base, California, has hosted the Department of Defense’s premier space development and acquisition activity for over 65 years. Now designated Space Systems Command, that organization manages an annual $11 billion budget that covers the full spectrum of space system development and sustainment.

Patrick Space Force Base, Florida, and its associated Eastern Range look back on more than 70 years as America’s busiest space portal. The current launch pace at Patrick Space Force Base/Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and the adjoining NASA Kennedy Space Center were at an all-time high of 37 successful launches in 2021, driven in part by the success and energy of commercialized space access. Its mission falls under the Space Systems Command.

Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado, transitioned from the Air Force to the Space Force in 2020. Its mission is varied but includes hosting the Space Operations Command, which in turn oversees most other ongoing Space Force activities, including the Space Training and Readiness Command. 

Schriever Space Force Base, Colorado, headquartered at Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado. This operating location performs most of the control functions for our nation’s space assets. For pilots, that includes the vital GPS.

Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, provides operational, geographic and technical advantages compared to other launch venues, especially in testing long-range weapons (its mission for many years in support of the Strategic Air Command), and in enabling launch to polar orbits. It is also subordinate to Los Angeles-based Space Systems Command.

     The Space Force is developing its own formal and informal culture, uniforms and duty titles. It certainly has captured a younger generation’s attention. According to the Air Force Academy, of the 1,019 2021 graduates, 114 of those are commissioning into the
Space Force. 

     Whether the Space Force will grow a unique culture such as the Marine Corps does within the Department of the Navy, or focuses on its technology-heavy mission, will soon be seen. For instance, will there be any aviation element within the Space Force? This will be seen later. In the meantime, we can look back some 70 years, and remind ourselves that the Air Force still had privates and corporals as late as 1952. Change happens, and usually at its own pace.