US Space Force explained in 7 simple questions and answers
- US President Donald Trump has signed the Space Force into existence as the sixth military service under the Department of Air Force.
- Right now, the Space Force only has one employee — General John Raymond, the chief of space operations.
- The US isn't alone in the endeavour to protect its assets in outer space, other nations like China, Russia and India already have or are in the process of forming their own space protection agencies.
Trump's signing of the fiscal 2020 defence authorisation bill officially which establishes the Space Force as the sixth military service under the Department of Air Force; and the eleventh command under the Department of Defence.
It also marks the end of the Air Force Space Command, which was re-established in August this year after being scrapped in 2002. It was the first step towards forming an eventual Space Force.
"Space — there's going to be a lot of things happening in space, because space is the world's newest warfighting domain," Trump said.
1. Why are countries forming space agencies for defence in the first place?
Almost everything we do on the ground is somehow related to satellites in the sky, from something as simple as placing an Amazon shopping order to navigating through the evening traffic on Google Maps. Businesses and consumers, alike, are now dependent on networks that can only be defended in the skies.
Any interference in those satellite systems would mean affecting nearly every part of a citizen's daily life as well as the country's economic system as a whole.
"It (Space Force) includes both combat and combat support functions to enable prompt and sustained offensive and defensive space operations and joint operations in all domains,"says the newly signed piece of legislation.
Having defences in place to prevent that from happening is why nations like the US are forming a Space Force.
2. Is space the next warfighting domain or it is just Cold-era warmongering?
The Cold War-era ‘space race' looks like its ready to make its return. The only difference that instead the US and Russia going head to head, there are many more players on the field this time.
According to Trump, it's the next warfighting domain. And, he's not the only one who feels that way.
Russia made a similar move back in 2015 when it created the Aerospace Forces by merging its military branches. Its neighbour in the west, China, reorganised its military the same year to form the People's Liberation Army Strategic Support Force that brings their electronic, cyber, nuclear and space warfare forces together under a single umbrella.
India is also currently in the process of forming the Defence Space Agency that will put officers from all three branches of defence — navy, army and the airforce.
3. Who's in charge of the Space Force?
You can call in Space Command or Space Force, but it's still the Air Force that's in charge.
4. How much money will Space Force have to spend?
Trump is asking for $72.4 million for the Space Force, but the US Congress has only signed off on $40 million for in 2020 — only half the amount. According to the Secretary of the Air Force, Barbara Barret, it will still be enough to get the Space Force off its feet and running.
"We will phase development according to what the budget provides. Yes, it's less than what was requested but, yes, we'll quite ably work with the amount that is appropriated,"she said told reporters.
Most of the money is going to be transferred from the Air Force budget and its various programmes. The transfers required will also shift the personnel costs associated with the projects to the Space Force, explained Barret.
5. So, who are the new ‘spacemen' and ‘spacewomen'?
There's technically only one person in the Space Force so far. His name is General John Raymond and he currently leads the US Space Command. But since that will now be scrapped, Trump appointed him as the first chief of space operations under Space Force — and that's about all Trump has the power to do.
As for the rest of the 16,000 employees of the Space Command, the space operators and specialists will have the option to accept a transfer. Until that happens, they're still officially a part of the US Air Force. And, they get to choose whether they want to make the switch.
The others — civil engineers, security forces, lawyers and other positions — will remain with the Air Force. But that's not the only branch of defence where the Space Force is hoping to get its workforce.
6. The Safe Force is restricted to the Air Force?
For now, yes. Unlike the Space Command, the Space Force is also looking into recruiting from the Army and the Navy. While that may be a good idea, the current legislation doesn't allow it. According to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Space Policy Stephen Kitay, that's the long-term view of the Department of Defence.
In the short run, an undersecretary will be appointed to mind the ‘overall supervision' of the agency. In addition, a chief and vice chief will be assigned to lead the ‘space staff'.
7. Lastly, will the Space Force have Star Trek-like uniforms?
All the cultural details — like the uniforms, what the cadets will be called and the Space Force emblem — are still being negotiated.
"It's going to be really important that we get this right. A uniform. A patch. A song. It gets to the culture of service. So we're not going to be in a rush to get something, and not do that right,"the newly-appointed head of the Space Force, General John Raymond, told reporters.
It's going to be a while before the Space Force is fully operations and running, but it's a small but meaningful win for Trump, who was on the cusp of finishing his full-term when the House of Representatives voted to impeach him from office last week. He's among the only three US Presidents to be impeached from the White House.
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