WASHINGTON Amidst the growing pains that come with being a new military branch, the US Space Force is trying to establish its brand and build an identity.
The amount of work we’ve done in three years makes my mouth water, but we’re still figuring out our way through the big military bureaucracy, said Lieutenant General DeAnna Burt, US Space Force deputy chief for operations, cyber and nuclear.
In an interview with Space newsBurt said service leaders are tested on many fronts. As the smallest branch, Space Force has a flatter structure and senior officers wear different hats. As a new organization for less than four years, Space Force is also keen to innovate and has pushed for changes in personnel policies, fitness testing, and uniform design.
The Space Force is responsible for organizing, training and equipping forces to conduct space domain operations, such as flying satellites, and ensuring that these assets are always available.
The service now has more than 12,900 members, known as guardians. This includes approximately 8,409 uniformed servicemen and 4,519 civilians. By comparison, the main Space Force service, the US Air Force, has approximately 328,820 active duty personnel and 152,231 civilians.
Even within the Department of Defense’s strict rules and deeply ingrained norms, we want to try and do things differently, Burt said, whether it’s managing talent, focusing on diversity and inclusion, being a service digital and flatten the organization.
For this to work, Burt said, we need to find that balance of doing things in a new way but also being part of the joint force.
Uniforms, physical fitness tests
One example is a move by the Space Force to reinvent the annual physical fitness tests required for military members. Instead, it uses a holistic approach where guardians volunteer to share fitness assessment data from wearable trackers. Participants are exempt from taking the conventional Air Force fitness test for two years.
It’s going really well, Burt said. It’s the idea that holistic health isn’t just about an annual test. It’s about always being healthy.
All services are looking at this, he said. There was a little pushback initially, but that’s okay now.
Another area where the Space Force has been looking for changes is in women’s uniforms.
The service was pilloried on social media in 2021 when a guardian wore a prototype uniform with the wrong size pants.
In the Air Force, all uniforms were designed by men, Burt said. Space Force now has a male designer for the men’s uniform and a female designer for the women’s uniform. Space Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Nina Armagno gave a preview of the new uniform during the Space Symposium in April.
The specifications and design details of the Space Force women’s uniform are transferable to the Air Force, Burt said. So I think eventually the women’s Air Force uniforms will get better because of the work that the Space Force is doing.
No recruiting issues so far
As the Army and Air Force face recruiting shortfalls, the Space Force is attracting more applicants than it has positions to fill.
Officials said this was due to the small size of the space forces and growing enthusiasm in the United States for career opportunities in space. The Space Force inducted 564 new active duty Guardians in FY2022.
We are very selective in our selection of both officers and enlisted personnel, Burt said. Having a large candidate pool also allows the Space Force to build diversity and inclusion from the ground up, so the force reflects the population we are advocating for.
According to self-reported guardian racial demographics, the service is 63% White, 14% Hispanic or Latino, and 7.5% Black or African American, and 6.3% Asian. The remainder includes a mix of American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and others.
Staffing initiatives, such as providing opportunities for advanced degrees and exchange programs with the private sector, are intended to help retain skilled people, Burt said. One concern for the future is losing guardians to the higher-paying private sector.
Unlike larger military branches, the Space Force’s junior officers have significant responsibilities because there are far fewer generals. People at the Pentagon have recognized that I have colonels I need to authorize to send to meetings, Burt said. And they’re topping their weight class and doing a great job, he said. They feel very empowered by being given that level of responsibility.
Burt herself oversees areas in the Air Force that are overseen by five different general officers: operations and logistics, cybersecurity, wargaming, and nuclear command and control. She is also one of the rare three-star female generals overseeing operations.
Tell you I’m often the only woman at the table, Burt said. This is something he hopes will change as more young female officers rise through the ranks. It is however interesting how few female general officers are in this building.
Priorities of new leaders
The Space Force’s chief of space operations, General Chance Saltzman, earlier this year presented a list of priorities, the first of which is to deploy combat-ready forces.
Having a skilled workforce skilled in advanced technology is key to achieving this goal, Burt said. We must deliver the most exquisite space capabilities possible to the joint force and defend those capabilities so they can continue to deliver.
Saltzman also wants to define the guardian spirit. This means answering central questions such as What do we expect from our guardians? And how do we evaluate talent and build talent based on our core values?
The third priority, working together to win, is about forging ties with foreign allies and the commercial industry.
Saltzman also wants Space Force to become better known to the American public. We all need to spend time talking about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, Burt said. Because it helps the American people understand where their tax money goes.
Most people are unaware of their reliance on satellites for routine day-to-day activities like using GPS or trading stocks and what could happen if orbiting satellites were taken out of service. We need to talk about it as much as possible, Burt said.
According to a Saltzman memo issued June 8, our effectiveness as a military organization depends on an unassailable relationship with the society we serve.
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