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Becoming the Department of the Air and Space Forces

Illustrations © James Vaughan, and used by permission. More of his work can be found here: http://www.jamesvaughanphoto.com/

By Aaron Brooks Raj Agrawal

 

ABSTRACT

The Department of the Air Force is responsible to organize, train, and equip the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force to project power in, from, and through air and space. The U.S. Congress’ decision to organize air and space forces within the same military department maintains the close ties between the services and negates the bureaucratic expansion a separate Department of the Space Force would bring. To lay the foundation for an enduring synergistic relationship, the Department of the Air Force should realign combined Air and Space Forces functions under the Departmental Secretariat and rebrand as the Department of the Air and Space Forces.

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Introduction

The U.S. Congress’ directive to establish the U.S. Space Force (USSF) alongside the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in the Department of the Air Force (DAF), rather than siloing space into a separate Department of the Space Force, has dramatic implications. Keeping the Air and Space Forces linked enables the USSF to remain lean and agile by sharing common functions across the DAF, while ensuring each service has the independence required to prepare domain-specific forces to project national power in, from, and through air and space. While the DAF has included space for almost 70 years, the USSF’s establishment grants space parity with aviation, marking a fundamental shift in the military department’s mission and identity. To fully optimize the organizational synergies between the Air and Space Forces, the DAF should adopt and improve upon the Department of the Navy’s organizational model for supporting two independent military services by realigning major multi-service functions from the USAF to the DAF Secretariat. Considering the foundational differences between the USAF-USSF and Navy-Marine Corps relationships, the Department of the Air Force should rename and rebrand as the Department of the Air and Space Forces to complement the reorganization of the DAF, fully embracing its congressional mandate as an air and space department.

In 1996, Air Force Chief of Staff General Ronald Fogleman described the USAF as transitioning from an air force to an air and space force on an evolutionary path to a space and air force.[1] At the time, Fogleman envisioned a future independent space service, foreshadowing his 2019 endorsement for the USSF’s creation.[2] An independent USSF enhances joint lethality and effectiveness by giving guardians an independent service budget, control over doctrine, acquisitions, personnel development, and the proper stature to advise and advocate for spacepower to the joint force.

Representatives Jim Cooper, Mike Rogers, and Adam Smith, the three legislators most responsible for the Space Force’s creation, committed to a lean and agile service and opposed a separate Department of the Space Force.[3] Some oppose creating a Department of the Space Force because it may create an unnecessary bureaucratic burden and duplicate existing functions, while others are concerned it could undermine the integration of spacepower into terrestrial operations.[4] While Fogleman’s vision never quite was realized within the USAF, it may be applicable to the existing context because the DAF is transitioning from a single-service Air Force Department to a multi-service Air and Space Forces Department.

Department of the Navy and Allied Multi-Service Structures

The Department of the Navy’s (DON) model serves as an initial framework to learn from and ultimately improve upon.[5] Prior to the USSF’s establishment within the DAF, the DON was the only military department to consist of two military services: the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.

The DAF and the DON have similar structures for their departmental secretariats. There are some differences, such as the DON Secretariat including the joint Navy-Marine Corps Office of Naval Research, which oversees the Naval Research Laboratory, and the Department of the Navy judge advocate general.[6] This differs from the DAF and Department of the Army’s structure, whose judge advocates general are part of the Air and Army staffs, rather than their departmental secretariats.[7] Moreover, the Air Force Research Laboratory is an Air Force Materiel Command center and the Army Research Laboratory is organized under Army Futures Command.[8]

Aside from the judge advocates general and research laboratories, the Army, Navy, and Air staffs are all similarly organized.[9] The Navy Staff’s Chief of Chaplains and Surgeon General, both two-star admirals, are responsible for supporting the Navy and Marine Corps.[10] However, the Marine Corps Staff also has the Medical Officer of the Marine Corps and the Chaplain of the Marine Corps, both Navy one-star admirals, assigned to it and the Navy provides Marine Corps units with all medical and religious support personnel. The current Medical Officer of the Marine Corps has the additional duty as Chief of the Navy Medical Corps, while the Marine Corps Chief of Chaplains is permanently duel-hatted as the Navy Deputy Chief of Chaplains.[11] The Navy also operates the U.S. Naval Academy and Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps for both services.[12] However, the Marine Corps has its own integral Officer Candidate School and the Marine Corps University for professional military education.[13]

Germany and Australia have also had success consolidating multi-service support functions. In 2000, the German Bundeswehr established the Joint Support and Enabling Service to consolidate logistics, camp operations, and military police functions, which resulted in increased efficiency and reduced costs.[14] The Bundeswehr also centralizes military medicine in the Medical Service and cyber and communications in the Cyber and Information Domain Service.[15] Similarly, Australia’s Joint Capabilities Group centralizes tri-service logistics, medical, cyber and communications, military police, and legal functions.[16] Officer cadets and midshipmen are trained and educated at the Australian Defence Force Academy, immersing them in a multi-service environment from the first day of their military careers.[17] Additionally, Australia and Germany both provide officers with professional military education through joint universities, such as the Australian War College and Bundeswehr Command and Staff College, rather than service specific institutions.[18]

Realigning the Department of the Air Force for Space

While the DON, Australian, and German models provide an initial framework for reorganizing the DAF, there are several functional differences that need to be considered. Under the President’s FY2022 budget proposal, the DON is anticipated to consist of approximately 178,500 marines and 346,200 sailors (1 marine : 2 sailors).[19] The DAF is anticipated to have an active-duty strength of approximately 8,400 guardians and 328,300 airmen (1 guardian : 39 airmen).[20] The Marine Corps also would receive $47.8 billion from the DON’s $207.9 billion budget (23%), while the USSF would receive $17.4 billion of the DAF’s $173.7 billion budget (10%), after subtracting non-DAF controlled pass-through funding.[21] The Space Force’s military personnel and military construction budget lines are temporarily included USAF account totals.[22] There are also discussions about how to transfer the 1,600 USAF space reservists, who have historically executed 26% of the space mission, and several hundred space soldiers and sailors into the USSF.[23] Despite the difference in personnel and budget, DAF leadership have consistently testified to the outsized importance of space within the department, even before the creation of the USSF, with former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson stating that she spent around 33% of her time on space issues.[24]

Service Support

Among the Chief of Space Operations’ priorities is empowering a lean and agile service, with an emphasis on reducing bureaucracy.[25] The USSF will receive up to 80% of support functions from the USAF, with service support, such as medical, legal, base administration, and religious support, provided by airmen assigned to USSF garrisons, space launch deltas, and headquarters staffs.[26] This arrangement takes the best aspects of the Navy-Marine Corps, German, and Australian joint support models to maximize efficiency while ensuring responsiveness to USSF mission requirements.

As spacepower evolves, there may be a revolution in military affairs which changes the USSF’s mission profile from projecting power from terrestrial military installations to requiring human military spaceflight. When that occurs, the USSF’s support needs may sufficiently change to require specialized spaceborne support forces to perform orbital or planetary tasks. However, until such a revolution occurs the current arrangement is more cost effective, efficient, and advantageous.

Departmental Secretariat and Service Staffs

The USAF is also focused on streamlining bureaucracy and eliminating redundancy. Air Force Chief of Staff General C.Q. Brown has stated his intent to balance roles and responsibilities at all echelons of the USAF, eliminate redundancies, and limit bureaucratic layers.[27] The Air Staff’s chief of chaplains, judge advocate general, surgeon general, chief scientist, and historian support the DAF, USAF, and USSF.[28] Following the creation of the USSF, the USAF chief of chaplains and surgeon general have been renamed as the DAF chief of chaplains and surgeon general, however, they still sit on the Air Staff and have not been moved to the DAF Secretariat.[29]

Rather than assigning deputy Air Staff officers as Space Staff chiefs (such as the USAF deputy chief of chaplains becoming the USSF chief of chaplains), the DAF should instead realign USSF-supporting Air Staff officers to be dual-hatted as Space Staff officers. For example, the USAF chief of chaplains would also become the USSF chief of chaplains and be a sitting member of both the Air Staff and Space Staff. This would ensure that headquarters staff officers report to both service chiefs, negate the need to create additional Space Staff positions, and ensure a single officer is responsible for their respective Medical and Professional Officer Corps across the Air and Space Forces.

Research & Development and Training & Education

The Air and Space Forces also share common research and development and training and education establishments, through the Air Force Research Laboratory, U.S. Air Force Academy, and Air University. Realigning these organizations to effectively support both services will create positive synergies and fully enable the USSF to take advantage of the economies of scale that the USAF’s larger size and budget brings.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is organized under Air Force Materiel Command and performs research and development. Following the USSF’s creation, the DAF opted not to split AFRL since space research and development is not just performed in space laboratories, but across the entire organization. [30] Many areas of science and engineering are domain agnostic, with directed energy, artificial intelligence, and human performance research equally valuable to both the USAF and USSF. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has found that its aeronautics research has proven invaluable to space launch, reentry, and spaceplane research.[31] The USSF can directly benefit from AFRL’s aeronautics programs in the development of future space launch vehicles, an operational successor to the X-37B spaceplane, and even aerodynamic airbreathing very low orbit satellites.[32]

The Air and Space Forces utilize the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA), Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and Officer Training School (OTS) for officer commissioning. USAFA leadership has been vocal about becoming the Space Force’s Academy, commissioning 204 cadets into the USSF since its inception (40% of yearly USSF officer accessions).[33] It has also has made concerted efforts to provide spacepower education and training for cadets through its Space Force detachment, Institute of Future Conflict, space warfighting minor, and FalconSAT Cadet Space Operations Squadron.[34] Air University has also incorporated space into its professional military education courses, through the Squadron Officer School’s Space Grey Rhinos program, Air Command and Staff College’s Schriever Scholars program, Air War College’s West Space Seminar, and the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies.[35]

The USSF has stated intent is to be a joint-smart service from its inception and produce a space-smart joint force.[36] Continuing to combine USAF and USSF training and education, like the Australian Defence Force Academy, Australian War College, and Bundeswehr Command and Staff College provide for their own armed forces, helps ensure that Air and Space Forces officers are exposed to each other at each step of their career, rather than isolated into a single-service environment. As joint warfighters, airmen and guardians need to not only be conscious of their own domain, but all-domains with a particular emphasis on cyberspace and information operations.[37]

Both research and development and training and education are crucial for the success of the USAF and USSF. The DON organizes the joint Navy-Marine Corps Office of Naval Research and Naval Research Laboratory under the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisitions. Following this model, the now joint USAF-USSF Air Force Research Laboratory should be realigned from Air Force Materiel Command to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisitions, Technology, and Logistics. Likewise, USAFA and Air University, to include ROTC and OTS, should be reorganized under the DAF Secretariat directly to ensure they are responsive to both USAF and USSF service requirements.

Rebranding as the Department of the Air and Space Forces

According to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Marines exist to support the Navy’s fleets, projecting power on land in support of maritime domain objectives. After decades of conflict where the Marine Corps has operated as a land force independent of the Navy, it is making concerted efforts to refocus on its naval and Fleet Marine Force mission.[38]

Unlike sailors and marines, airmen and guardians operate in two separate domains independent of each other. Unlike the Marines supporting the Navy’s maritime mission, the USSF does not exist to predominately support the USAF’s air mission. The Air and Space Forces exist to support the joint force and provide independent options to national leadership in different domains. Considering the structural differences between the USAF-USSF and Navy-Marine Corps relationships, the DAF should also rename and rebrand as the Department of the Air and Space Forces to complement the reorganization of the Department of the Air Force for space and the fundamental shift in the DAF’s structure, mission, and identity.

Historical Air and Space Organization Rebrands

Historically, many aviation organizations that have taken on significant space roles have rebranded as they undergo transformational changes. NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), was an aviation research organization founded in 1915. By 1957, a third of NACA’s research was dedicated to spaceflight and in 1958 it was reorganized into NASA, adding space to its name, mission, and identity.[39] In 1966, Congress renamed the National Air Museum to the National Air and Space Museum to recognize its role in preserving the United States’ space history.[40] In 1968, the USAF’s Air Defense Command was redesignated as Aerospace Defense Command to describe its increased space operations and missile warning mission more accurately.[41] This was later followed by North American Air Defense Command renaming itself as North American Aerospace Defense Command in 1981 and the National Air Intelligence Center renaming to the National Air and Space Intelligence Center in 2003.[42]

In 1981, Representative Ken Kramer proposed H.R. 5130 to rename the U.S. Air Force as the U.S. Aerospace Force and give the service Title 10 authorities for space operations to “stimulate thinking about the fact that our Air Force ought to be involved in both air and space in coequal roles…that implicit in [an Aerospace Force] would be a recognition of space as another theater.” The Air Force, however, opposed the renaming, stating that space operations were not considered a coequal partner with air operations in the service at the time.[43] More recently, several foreign air forces renamed to reflected increasing space roles. In 2019, the French Air Force was renamed the French Air and Space Force to accompany the establishment of the French Space Command within it.[44] In 2015, Russia merged its Air Force and Aerospace Defense Troops to form the Russian Aerospace Forces.[45] Japan has also stated that it is considering renaming the Japan Air Self-Defense Force into the Japan Air and Space Self-Defense Force by 2023 and the U.K. Royal Air Force’s Chief of the Air Staff has publicly floated the idea of renaming the service to the Royal Air and Space Force.[46]

Including Space Alongside Air Matters

As illustrated by the previous examples, the decision to rebrand – or not to rebrand – is a statement of what and who is valued. Far from trivial, the message that names bring can be felt by members of an organization, the public, and even Congress.

Starting in 1958 the USAF described the air and space domains as a single, seamless aerospace medium – despite not giving space the same priority as aviation.[47] The recognized importance of space began to rise after the Gulf War, when in 1994, General Merrill McPeak included space alongside air in the service’s mission statement for the first time.[48] General Fogleman reinforced the elevation of space in 1996, declaring the Air Force was transitioning to an air and space force at the Corona service leadership conference. The following chief of staff, General Ryan, reverted to the 1950s aerospace construct, with the understanding that air and space were not to be treated as separate, but rather as a single indivisible medium in the vertical domain.[49] Members of Congress, such as Senator Bob Smith, became concerned that the Air Force’s aerospace reversion was actively causing damage to Space Command. In response, Congress established the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization.[50] Following the Space Commission’s report, the Air Force permanently broke with the aerospace construct and adopted the verbiage of air and space as “[aerospace] fails to give the proper respect to the culture and physical differences between [air and space].” [51]

Even after the 2002 decision to cease using aerospace in favor of air and space, the USAF dropped “air and space power” from its basic doctrine in 2010 in favor of just “airpower,” which was stated to holistically include traditional airpower, spacepower, and cyberpower.[52] In 2018, USAF Chief of Staff General David Goldfein declared that it is “time [for the Air Force] to embrace space superiority with the same passion and sense of ownership as we apply to air superiority today.”[53] The USAF, after twenty years of debate, was never completely able to embrace space and become a true air and space force, making the Space Force’s 2019 independence inevitable. The Department of the Air Force cannot afford to make similar historic mistakes.

The USSF is a full and equal partner with the USAF in the DAF, sharing the same secretary and civilian leadership. Statements and documents from departmental leadership reaffirm this status, however the name still erroneously implies that the space-mission is a secondary consideration in an air-dominant department.[54] Although not in title, the Secretary of the Air Force is the Secretary of the Space Force and the Department of the Air Force is the Department of the Space Force. This reality needs to be conveyed to the airmen and guardians of the DAF, acknowledged by a skeptical Congress, and communicated to American public where only 61% support the continuing existence of the USSF and whose views of space are largely influenced by science fiction rather than science fact.[55] Given that many Americans do not understand the direct importance of spacepower to the American way of life and way of war, changing the names of the department, secretary, and other organizations to include space is one of several actions that would highlight the role of space, recognizing that the USSF may have a smaller end-strength but the service is equally vital to the nation’s security and stability.[56]

Execution of Air to Air and Space

Renaming organizations to reflect new roles within the military is incredibly common. Some recent examples include when U.S. Pacific Command was renamed U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in 2018, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command was renamed the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command in 2019, and the first Air Force bases were renamed Space Force bases in 2020.[57] In 2005, the U.S. Navy even requested that the president rename the U.S. Naval Reserve the U.S. Navy Reserve to “reflect the integration of active and Reserve sailors as one Navy.”[58] By this standard, renaming the Department of the Air Force to the Department of the Air and Space Forces should neither be contentious nor unprecedented.

From 2001 until his death in 2019, Congressman Walter Jones introduced legislation to rename the Department of the Navy to the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps.[59] His intent was to give the Marine Corps and its mission recognition in the DON. The proposal was endorsed by six former Commandants of the Marine Corps, including General Krulak, high-profile former marines such as Oliver North and R. Lee Ermey, who remarked, “We aren’t asking for our own department…we are just asking for an honorable mention,” and organizations such as the Marine Corps League, Fleet Reserve Association, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.[60] The proposal had record-breaking support in Congress, with 98% support in the House of Representatives and 80% support in the Senate in 2008, and in 2010 achieved a congressional record of 415 cosponsors in the House. Despite this unprecedented support, the proposal was always stripped in conference between the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, reportedly directly by Senator and former Navy officer John McCain. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the price tag for the rename would be “less than $500,000 a year over the next several years.” [61]

Renaming the Department of the Air Force would likely have a similar price tag of $500,000 over several years, which would only be 0.000003% of the DAF’s $173.7 billion yearly budget and could easily be incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act.[62] While renaming the DAF will likely resurrect the DON renaming proposal in Congress, the Navy and Marine Corps would need to determine if such a renaming is in their interest. The term “naval,” as used in the U.S. Naval Academy and Naval ROTC, is defined by the DON to include the Navy and Marine Corps (and sometimes Coast Guard) together.[63] There is no such understanding, either historical or contemporary, that “air” or “air force” is understood to include space or the Space Force. While the Department of the Air Force legally includes the Space Force, its name excludes the space domain, furthering confusion over if an entity supports the air and space mission. Adding air and space to an entity’s name unambiguously communicates to airmen, guardians, and the American public that they support the Air and Space Forces together.

To effectuate a rebrand of the Department of the Air Force, all common elements that support the Air and Space Forces must change. This does not just include the Department of the Air Force and secretaries of the Air Force becoming the Department of the Air and Space Forces and secretaries of the Air and Space Force, but also encompasses shared organizations and awards and decorations. Organizations such as the U.S. Air Force Academy and Air Force Research Laboratory should be renamed as the U.S. Air and Space Academy (USASA) and Air and Space Research Laboratory (ASRL), while decorations such as the Air Force Cross and Airman’s Medal should become the Air and Space Forces Cross (to avoid confusion with the Air Medal, should it become the Air and Space Medal) and the Airman’s and Guardian’s Medal. Adding air and space to a name can even reconnect Air Force organizations with their space age heritage, such as when the Air Force Academy was simply referred to as the Air Academy and AFRL’s laboratories were part of Air Research and Development Command.[64] Aside from making their dual USAF and USSF roles abundantly clear to prospective applicants and research partners, these organizations are among the most public facing in the DAF, with ROTC detachments and the USAFA Falcons athletics program serving as Air and Space Forces ambassadors to over a thousand colleges and countless college sports fans across the United States and world.[65]

Conclusion

The Air and Space Forces are stronger together within the same military department, and the USSF needs the Department of the Air Force to remain a lean and agile service, able to focus entirely on the problem of spacepower. The Department of the Air Force has an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past, incorporating space fully into its core identity and realigning itself to fully support the Air and Space Forces. In 1997, Major General William Jones, commander of Air Force Space Command’s Fourteenth Air Force, remarked that “the ultimate resolution of [the air and space versus aerospace question] will likely determine whether space remains a part of the [Air Force] or is ultimately organized as the fifth service within the [Department of Defense].” [66] The USAF struggled with this question for twenty-five years – the USSF cannot afford another twenty-five year debate over its status. If the Department of the Air Force determines that it is an air department with a small space corps, a separate Department of the Space Force becomes an increasing possibility. However, should the Department of the Air Force fully embrace the space mission and become the Department of the Air and Space Forces, it will enable the Air Force and Space Force to develop a strong, enduring, and synergistic relationship; further solidifying the equality of the Space Force’s value proposition among the American people, and ultimately leading to a more impactful stake toward prioritization within the Department of Defense.

Second Lieutenant Aaron Brooks, USSF, is a Space Operations Officer at the 16th Space Control Squadron, Space Delta 3 (Space Electronic Warfare) who commissioned as a Guardian from the United States Air Force Academy as part of the class of 2020. Colonel Raj Agrawal, USSF, Ph.D., is Chief, Space Control Division, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition & Integration, Department of the Air Force. This paper represents solely the author’s views and do not necessarily represent the official policy or position of any Department or Agency of the U.S. Government. If you have a different perspective, we’d love to hear from you.

NOTES

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