The internet has been abuzz about the New U.S. Space Force, its logo, and uniforms. But what do you really know about the United States’ newest military branch?
The Origins of the Space Force
Born from the Air Force’s Space Command, the Space Force is responsible for all things space.
There are quite a few jokes already floating around on the internet about the new branch’s uniforms and logo. Space Cadets? Guardians of the Galaxy? Star Trek? Much of this ribbing and poking is tied to the Air Force and all the crap heaped on that faultless branch. But, the Space Force is not the Air Force.
Way back in the late 1940s, the Air Force was still a young branch of the military. Ballistic missile programs were in their infancy, and both the Army and Navy were dabbling in the idea of space and its relation to warfare. Under the direction of General Bernard Schriever, the Western Development Division was stood up in 1954. It was the first space organization created for any branch, and would morph into the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, responsible for America’s first spacecraft.
The Cold War Space Race
Seen as a new frontier in warfare, the ultimate high ground, the U.S. could easily imagine Russian spacecraft overhead, ready to spy, track, or rain fire down from the skies unmolested. When Sputnik 1 circled the Earth in 1957, the U.S. space program jumped into high gear, and the Space Race was in full gallop.
Sputnik was the impetus that kickstarted many U.S. military programs. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was created as a direct result of Sputnik. ARPA would create ARPANET, a defense computer networking system that would become the internet. The agency would later be repurposed into DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Soon after ARPA’s creation, NASA came into being and started working on getting the U.S. into space, while the individual branches worked to understand how to defend space.
The Infancy Stages
In 1961, the Pentagon gave the Air Force responsibility over military space operations, and the Space Systems Division was born from the Ballistic Missile Division. The Aerospace Defense Command was activated in 1968 to act as space surveillance and missile warning with NORAD. Air Force Systems Command took over operation of early communications satellites for the Defense Communications Agency.
The different agencies went through many reorganizations and name changes over the years. The space race was in full swing throughout the 60s and 70s, and hundreds of satellites were thrown into the sky to see what would work. The Vietnam War saw the first use of communications and weather satellites to provide intel to the battlefield. The Pentagon recognized the importance of space as more than simply another field on which to place weaponry. The Pentagon also understood that control of space should be centralized rather than administered willy-nilly by the different branches.
Air Force Space Command
The Air Force Space Command was how the Department of the Air Force responded to the space race. Formed in 1982, Space Command consolidated Air Force communications, weather, and defense under one flag.
The first Gulf War saw space systems leveraged for use on the battlefield in ways never used before. Iraq had no space force and relied on commercial satellites for communications and weather. U.S. forces had the might of Space Command behind them, providing real-time satellite information about weather and conditions on the ground.
After Desert Storm, the Space Command stagnated. Everything that had been thought of had been deployed or rejected. Air Force leadership focused on its air role, prioritizing pilots and aircraft support personnel over space personnel. However, the 2001 Space Commission recommended an independent space corps within the Air Force, similar to the original Army Air Corps, the birthplace of the USAF.
Space on the Back Burner
The events of 9/11 and the subsequent Global War on Terror, took focus away from space and placed it firmly on homeland defense and counter-terrorism. For a while, the space field of operations bounced around under different commands. No one seemed to know what a branch covering space should be doing, how it should be doing it, and who should be responsible for it.
In 2019, the National Defense Authorization Act initiated the U.S. Space Force Act, which reorganized Air Force Space Command into the U.S. Space Force creating the first new branch of the military since the Air Force’s inception in 1947. Air Force Space Command personnel were transferred en masse to the new branch forming its core. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps personnel are slated to transfer into the new branch in FY2022 as long as the budget is approved and signed.
Finally, the U.S. Space Force!
As a new, independent, service, Space Force members needed a name, and the moniker Guardian was adopted. Guardian is NOT a nod to James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which would be cool; rather it’s an homage to Air Force Space Command’s motto, Guardians of the High Frontier. The branch’s rank structure combines elements from Air Force and Army ranks, with lower enlisted called specialists and NCO and SNCO ranks matching existing Air Force ranks. Officer ranks match those of the Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps. Officer insignia remain the same, while enlisted chevrons got an update.
The branch’s insignia, names, and uniforms have all taken a beating in the media. Comparisons to Star Trek abound, and the general idea of Space Force conjures images of sci-fi movies, books, and games. Uniform prototypes, rolled out to the public on September 21, do little to dispel that image. Drawing comparisons to Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, the dress uniform does look a little… derivative.
Regardless of the sci-fi comparisons, the U.S. Space Force is a reality. And maybe, just maybe, the uniforms do need to look a bit outlandish. Just like the insignia is an homage to and progression from earlier iterations of Air Force and Army insignia, the uniform is a progression from legacy and existing dress uniforms. Similar to Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, the Space Force’s legacy is, well, space. At some point, actual Guardians will be deployed to stations in space so a futuristic look just makes sense.
The new branch’s motto is Semper Supra (Always Above). The Delta symbol in the logo pays homage to the Air Force and Air Force Space Command. Enlisted SNCO chevrons are meant to represent the Earth’s orbit. The name Guardian brings to mind sentinels standing guard over the Earth. Everything about the newest branch of the military seems futuristic. And why not? It is futuristic.
Space Force is the newest chapter in America’s national defense. In 1910, few believed aerial combat would ever be a thing, and dismissed it as impossible. Now the USAF is the premier Air Force in the world. And in 2020, few believed Guardians will ever be in space, “Always Above.” Just wait.