The U.S. Space Force (USSF) was established on December 20, 2019 with the enactment of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The USSF was established within the Department of the Air Force, with the Secretary of the Air Force having overall responsibility for the USSF, under the guidance and direction of the Secretary of Defense. A four-star general, known as the Chief of Space Operations (CSO) serves as the senior military member of the USSF and is a full member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The U.S. Space Force was the first new military service established since the establishment of the U.S. Air Force in 1947.
The idea for a USSF was floated in debates in 2017 when bipartisan lawmakers Mike Rogers and Jim Cooper, who led the House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces Subcommittee, suggested that a separate service should be established, and that previous space focused branches overlooked the importance of space and did not have the autonomy to focus solely on space without consideration of the department's wider concerns. Furthermore, the establishment of the USSF was considered a response to the increase of space-focused military divisions and activities by China and Russia; this included the two countries partaking in direct-ascent anti-satellite missile tests.
The USSF was founded with the mission to organize, train, and equip space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force. Further responsibilities include developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems, maturing the military doctrine for space power, and organizing space forces. Unlike NASA, the USSF is less concerned with exploring space, but rather focused on controlling and protecting American assets in or around space.
The initial doctrine of the USSF, published in June 2020, focused on the theory of Spacepower. The guiding principles of the theory of Spacepower include the following:
- The desire for freedom of action in space for the support of other warfighting domains and the civilian and commercial accessibility of space
- The space domain is the area above the altitude where atmospheric effects on airborne objects become negligible, therefore determining a unique domain requiring an ability to conduct activities that are inherently global
- Military space forces are the warfighters who protect, defend, and project spacepower, and in turn provide support, security, stability, and strategic effects through the employment of spacepower and in collaboration with U.S. Government, Allies, and partners
- Space operations are necessarily multi-domain where a successful operation in any one segment, whether terrestrial, link , or space, can neutralize a space capability
- The Space Force enables a mission-focused service able to elevate the traits of agility, innovation, and boldness amongst small teams to meet mission requirements
The USSF headquarters and the Office of the CSO are located in the Pentagon. The USSF, as the newest military service, while establishing its headquarters and staffing positions, used the Department of the Air Force for its enabling functions to reduce cost and avoid duplication. These services provided by the Department of the Air Force included support functions such as logistics, base operating support, civilian personnel management, business systems, IT support, and audit agencies.
The USSF announced in December 2020 that, henceforth, members of the U.S. Space Force would officially be called Guardians, which harkened back to an Air Force Space Command motto from 1983, "Guardians of the High Frontier".
Mission: "Protects America and our Allies in, from, and to space… now and into the future
Generates, presents, and sustains combat-ready intelligence, cyber, space and combat support forces and serves as the USSF Service Component to USSPACECOM."
There are eight Space Deltas within the Space Operations Command:
- Space Delta 2, Space Domain Awareness (SDA): Their mission is "to prepare, present and, if necessary, fight to protect and defend the U.S. and our allies from attack in, through and from space."
- Space Delta 3, Space Electromagnetic Warfare (SEW): DEL 3's mission is to "present combat-ready Space Electromagnetic Warfare (SEW) professionals to Combatant Commanders."
- Space Delta 4, Mission Warning: DEL 4's mission is "to provide strategic and theater missile warning to the United States and our International Partners."
- Space Delta 5, Command and Control: DEL 5's mission is "Execute operational command and control of space forces to achieve theater and global objectives.
- Space Delta 6, Cyber Operations: DEL 6's mission is "provide(s) assured access to space through the $6.8 billion Air Force Satellite Control Network and defensive cyberspace capabilities for space mission systems."
- Space Delta 7, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR): DEL 7'S mission is to "execute global ISR operations to gain and maintain information dominance in the space domain."
- Space Delta 8, Position, Navigation, Timing and Communication: DEL 8's mission is "providing the only global utility for PNT signals to both warfighters and civilian users as well as the focal point for U.S. protected and assured Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM) to the President, Secretary of Defense, national decision makers, theater commanders, and strategic and tactical forces worldwide."
- Space Delta 9, Orbital Warfare: DEL 9's mission is "to prepare, present, and project assigned and attached forces for the purpose of conducting protect and defend operations and providing national decision authorities with response options to deter and, when necessary, defeat orbital threats."
In the near immediate aftermath of the announcement of the establishment of the Space Force emerged a concern that the establishment of the U.S. Space Force was nothing more than a reshuffling of Air Force Space Command with no changes beyond the uniforms and patches, becoming a possible waste of tax dollars. These concerns focused on the lack of an initial budget or increase in personnel. Those responding to the concerns noted that the establishment of the U.S. Space Force offered a chance to increase the focus and organize military space around the deterrence and response to aggression.
Some concerns of the U.S. Space Force being nothing more than a bureaucratic reshuffling were put to rest with President Joe Biden's support for the division and the decision to keep the branch of the DoD rather than return its personnel to the Air Force Space Command. However, there remain concerns among some that the existence of the Space Force will prompt a space arms race that may threaten rather than protect satellites and related space infrastructure.
The USSF, with its mandate to maintain and enhance the competitive edge of the DoD in space and to adapt to new strategic challenges as per the mandate, offers spacelift operations, where the branch offers services, facilities, and range safety control at launch bases for the DoD, NASA, and commercial space launches. As well, the USSF has command and control of all DoD satellites and satellite operators in order to provide continuous global coverage with low vulnerability and autonomous operations in order to secure communications, weather, and navigational data for ground, air, and fleet operations in-theater. The USSF also provides ground- and space-based systems for the monitoring of ballistic missile launches around the world and related threat warnings. The satellite surveillance systems also provide information on the location of satellites and space debris.
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