16 March 2020
Space Force May Be Too Small:RAND
By Theresa Hitchins
Breaking Defense


Navy Mobile User Objective Service (MUOS) communications satellites should be operated by the Space Force, says RAND.

WASHINGTON -- The Space Force should be expanded to include most DoD space operational and acquisition organizations, including those of the Army and Navy, says a study released today by RAND’s Project Air Force. In also recommends that the Missile Defense Agency’s hands-on work operating satellites should be transferred, although the question of moving MDA activities requires more study,

The report, “A Separate Space: Creating a Military Service for Space,” also says that, as currently planned, the new service may be too small to adequately support its mission, noting that the Air Force’s start-up size was 300,000 compared to the Space Force’s planned 16,000.

“DoD is attempting to limit the additional resources needed to build the Space Force, which is understandable and even laudable, but being small could hurt the viability of the Space Force,” the study says. Its small size compared to the other services could also limit its leverage as it competes for resources both within DoD and on Capital Hill, RAND suggests.

RAND does not make a recommendation about just how big the Space Force should be, or what its budget should be. Rather, it states:

“Ultimately, the ideal size of the Space Force will likely correspond to its assigned missions and responsibilities. If its mission is similar to that of space forces within the armed forces today, it might not need much more than 16,000 people to carry that mission out. If its mission and associated responsibilities increase, however, it might need to increase its end strength commensurate with those additional missions.”

Further, it recommends that new doctrine be a priority. “Lack of a coherent doctrine of space warfighting would present a challenge to the Space Force’s effectiveness in its early years and make it more difficult for the service to build a distinctive identity,” RAND’s press release states. As Breaking Defense readers know, the Space Force already has begun doctrinal work that its commander, Gen. Jay Raymond, hopes to send to Congress in the next few months. 

The research was completed before the passage of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) establishing the new service, the authors note that they believe ifs finding remain valid. RAND was asked to put the study together by the Space Force Planning Task Force, led by Maj. Gen. Clint Crosier. Therefore some of its recommendations — such as that the Space Development Agency (SDA) be folded into the Space Force — already are mandated by Congress.

“The Space Force headquarters should include key functions that are essential to the independence and identity of the service, such as operational concepts and doctrine development; requirements development and advocacy; planning, programming, budgeting, and execution; and legislative liaisons and public affairs,” the report finds. Recommendations include:

  • Define and clarify space warfighting missions
  • Make sure the Space Force has its own resources and reaches out to educate the public on the nature and severity of space threats confronting the nation
  • Find creative ways to manage career fields and develop senior leaders
  • Work closely with other services and organizations to define and manage new relationships
  • Establish a formal monitoring and evaluation process to adapt to changes in organizational priorities and external factors.

The in-depth report finds that among Air Force Headquarters functions that should transfer to the Space Force is control of the Program, Planning, Budget and Execution (PPBE) process, as well as responsibility for advocating the service budget within DoD and to Congress — which would require the set up of a separate legislative/public affairs office.

In addition, it says, all the Air Force space intelligence organizations should transfer. As Breaking D readers know, senior Space Force leaders — including Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David Thompson and Space Operations Command head Maj. Gen. John Shaw — have been advocating for a separate National Space Intelligence Center.

However, the study does not go so far as to suggest the integration of the National Reconnaissance Office into the Space Force.

In the Army, most space operations are the purview of the Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC), Army Forces Strategic Command. The analysis finds that “space operational units that support national, strategic, or joint missions should transfer, and those Army units or personnel whose primary mission is to provide space support to Army operations should remain in the Army.”

Similarly, the Navy’s units that operate the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) narrowband communications satellites should also transfer to the Space Force, but again there are some caveats.

MDA’s telemetry, tracking and command operations of the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, which consists of two experimental satellites, would move to Space Force’s purview.

However, the study says, “certain functions, such as mission planning for the satellites, may require MDA’s expertise on missile defense; thus, such activities should reside under the purview of MDA. The Space Force and MDA would need an appropriate MOA or liaisons to coordinate their respective satellite operation activities. That said, the Space Force should expect that establishing such a formal arrangement and relationship could be difficult and take time.”

On the acquisition side, the research finds that, with a few caveats, all Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) units should be taken over by the Space Force — something that the Air Force began to do as soon as President Donald Trump signed the 2020 NDAA Dec. 20. Further, that study says that funds and billets from space directorates in Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) should transfer to Space Force, but “Space Force applies the funds to use Air Force personnel and infrastructure to perform work.”

The Army’s Future Warfare Center and Technical Center’s missions specific to space should move to Space Force “with resources;” along with space-related activities at Army Research Laboratory. Ditto for the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (now NIWC) and Navy Research Laboratory.

RAND would leave the space acquisition activities of the DARPA and the Strategic Capabilities Office where they are since they represent a relatively small sum of money.

But the authors suggest that MDA’s work on new space-based sensors for tracking ballistic and hypersonic missiles — the budget for which was shifted in DoD’s 2021 budget request to SDA — could also go to the Space Force. On the other, they note, there are also good arguments for allowing it to stay in MDA, which is something many members in Congress are insisting upon. 

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