“To boldly go where no one has gone before” may have been the motto of TV’s Star Trek, but for now at least that isn’t the mission statement for the U.S. Space Force, the first “new” branch of the U.S. military since the creation of the United States Air Force in 1947.
President Donald Trump has touted the Space Force as “the largest ever investment in the United States Military,” after the White House signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, but what its role to be is still not entirely clear.
A new study by the RAND Corporation, titled “A Separate Space: Creating a Military Service for Space,” which was released on March 16, suggested that as currently planned the new service could actually be too small to adequately support its mission.
The research study noted that at the time of the Air Force’s start-up its size was at 300,000 personnel, compared to the Space Force’s planned 16,000. RAND suggested that the Space Force could face challenges in achieving effectiveness, efficiency, independence and even identity.
“If the Space Force is limited to being a force enabler rather than directly engaging in combat, then it will have difficulty demonstrating its effectiveness, justifying its existence as an independent service, and developing a distinctive identity,” was among the key points RAND noted. It called for the Space Force to work closely with the Air Force – along with other services – to develop “space tracks,” which could prepare for Air Force officers to serve in the Space Force.
However, it should be remembered that the Air Force may have had a head start of sorts when it was established by the National Security Act, which was passed into law on September 18, 1947. The Air Force was first conceived during the First World War and actually grew out of the Army Signal Corps at the end of the Second World War.
During World War II, the United States Navy was charged with air operations at sea while the U.S. Army Air Corps handled air operations on land, including the bombing campaigns against Germany and Japan. With the formation of the Air Force, it was organized along the same missions it flew during the war.
Its missions were assembled into four components including Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, Air Defense Command and the Military Air Transport Service. Each of these has evolved over the years, while the Air Force took on other components that included intercontinental ballistic missiles, which were introduced in 1958; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellites beginning in 1959.
Throughout much of its history, the Air Force has also played a crucial role in space, and this included the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), which was one of its major commands from September 1982 until December 2019. The Air Force will still serve as the parent service to the Space Force – much the way the U.S. Navy is the parent service to the Marine Corps.
While perhaps the Space Force mission still needs to come into focus, this is still the early days for the newest branch of the service, and it should be seen as the beginning with a lot more yet to come.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and website. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.