The Defense Department has released a roadmap for the department to eventually stand up a sixth branch of the Armed Forces devoted specifically to space.

Establishing a Space Force that would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard requires legislative approval. But the report, titled “Final report on Organizational and Management Structure for the National Security Space Components of the Department of Defense” and released Aug. 9, outlines four areas where the Pentagon can lay groundwork to build more resilient architectures and strengthen deterrence and warfighting options in the space domain before any decision made by Congress.

Falcon Heavy lifts off from Florida during its first flight Feb. 6, 2018. (Photo: SpaceX)
Falcon Heavy lifts off from Florida during its first flight Feb. 6, 2018. (Photo: SpaceX)

Those efforts include, in expected chronological order: establishing a space development agency to rapidly develop and field key space capabilities; create a “Space Operations Force” to provide relevant expertise and manpower when needed, similar to U.S. Special Operations Forces; develop a legislative proposal for Congress that lays out the services and support functions necessary to build a sixth military branch; and establish U.S. Space Command, a new combatant command “to lead the use of space assets in warfighting.” The Pentagon aims to accomplish these measures by 2020, per the report.

A new space development agency would be set up in the model of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) and the DoD Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), focusing on technology maturation, experimentation and prototyping, as well as taking advantage of lower-cost commercial space technology and assets, the report said.

The department would also build upon the recent restructuring of the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), which currently handles about 85 percent of department’s military space procurement budget.  Dubbed “SMC 2.0,” the restructuring aims to streamline decision-making and leverage commercial partnerships. “The Department will accelerate and extend this transformation to all services by creating a joint Space Development Agency,” the report added. “SMC 2.0 is the start.”

The Space Operations Force would combine all of the space personnel currently spread across the services, “developed and managed as one community,” the report said. It would be overseen by U.S. Space Command with civilian oversight from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, until such time as a Space Force is created. The Pentagon would also create a new Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space position, Vice President Mike Pence announced Thursday in a speech at the Pentagon.

The force would be prepared to deploy teams to U.S. European Command and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (formerly U.S. Pacific Command) no later than summer of 2019, as well as develop standards that DoD personnel must meet to become Space Operation Force members. Work on the new force “begins immediately,” the report said.

The Pentagon’s third effort would focus on revising Title 10 of U.S. Code “to establish service and support functions and leadership authorities of the Space Force as the sixth branch of the Armed Forces,” the report said. The proposal will outline how to provide services and support related to recruiting, legal matters, financial management, logistics, medical and human resources.

Finally, the department proposes establishing a new combatant command related to space by the end of 2018, to be directed initially by the Air Force Space Command commander, but eventually led by a separate four-star general or flag officer. This command will lead warfighting activities in space, employ a simplified command structure, establish space standards to promote interoperability across the branches, and develop space doctrine, concepts of operation and space tactics, techniques and procedures, among other responsibilities, the report said. The department plans to study U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Cyber Command “to develop a lean, flat structure for U.S. Space Command,” it added.

The Defense Department’s report emphasizes the need for the U.S. military to maintain its dominant presence in the space domain as malicious actors work to diminish its capabilities.

“China and Russia, our strategic competitors, are explicitly pursuing space warfighting capabilities to neutralize U.S. space capabilities during a time of conflict,” the report said. Both countries have been developing directed energy technologies in order to field anti-satellite weapons, and could complete development of those weapons “in the next several years,” it added. Electronic warfare attacks against space systems are expected to increase, focused on jamming capabilities to counter military satellite communications, synthetic aperture radar imaging satellites, and navigation systems such as GPS.

Other potential foes are also pursuing counter-space capabilities, to include jamming, cyber warfare and “dazzling,” or shooting a laser at a sensor to temporarily or permanently blind it, the report said.

Pence, who chairs the National Space Council, noted at the Pentagon that “our adversaries have transformed space into a warfighting domain already, and the United States will not shrink from this challenge,” he said.

“America will always seek peace in space as on the Earth, but history proves that peace only comes through strength,” he added.  “And in the realm of outer space, the United States Space Force will be that strength in the years ahead.”

Two members of Congress who have long advocated for a reorganization of the U.S. military space enterprise expressed support for the report, which was required as part of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), respectively chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said in a joint statement: We have been warning for years of the need to protect our space assets and to develop more capable space systems. We are glad that the Pentagon is finally taking these steps in enhancing our space strength. …This report is a step in a multi-year process that we think will result in a safer, stronger America.”

Defense officials have not always been warm to the idea of a Space Force. Air Force senior leadership, to include Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and Secretary Heather Wilson, have testified before Congress that separating space operations from the Air Force would counter current efforts underway to boost space as a warfighting domain.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon that he would support the creation of a combatant command for space.