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Research Questions

  1. What activities within the Department of Defense should be transferred to the Space Force, given the goals of effectiveness, efficiency, independence, and sense of identity for the new service?
  2. Can the Space Force sustain the necessary career fields?
  3. What other challenges will the Space Force face as it stands up and grows into its role?

The Department of Defense is creating the Space Force as an independent service within the Department of the Air Force to ensure access to, and freedom to operate in, space and to provide vital capabilities to joint and coalition forces in peacetime and across the spectrum of conflict. It has been 72 years since the United States last created a new military service, the Air Force. The other military services date back to the first years of the American nation. Because the Department of Defense does not often create military services, this is an opportune time to consider the implications of creating an independent Space Force.

RAND developed an analytic approach to determine which units to bring into the Space Force. The authors asked how a transfer might affect any of the following four organizational attributes: effectiveness, efficiency, independence, and sense of identity. Then, the authors assessed a set of career fields to consider whether they would be sustainable in the Space Force. These analyses are complemented with an examination of other organizations that the Department of Defense has created to gain insights into potential challenges that the Space Force might face as it stands up and grows into its role.

Key Findings

The majority of space activities (operations and associated space intelligence and training units and space acquisition organizations) in the Department of Defense should be moved into the Space Force

  • Headquarters, Space Force, should include key functions essential to the independence and identity of the service (i.e., operational concepts and doctrine development; requirements development and advocacy; planning, programming, budgeting, and execution; and legislative liaison and public affairs).
  • The proposed transfer of activities into the new service would likely create new seams between the Space Force and other services and organizations.

The Space Force will need people skilled in space operations, space intelligence, space acquisition, and other STEM disciplines

  • Given the Space Force's small size, only a few career fields will be organic within it. Other career fields that require substantive space knowledge but cannot be sustained within the Space Force will continue to reside in the Air Force, necessitating close collaboration between the two services.
  • The Space Force will likely need to draw about one-half of its general officers from the Air Force or other services for the foreseeable future.

The Space Force would face challenges in achieving effectiveness, efficiency, independence, and identity

  • If the Space Force is limited to being a force enabler rather than directly engaging in combat, then it will have difficulty demonstrating its effectiveness, justifying its existence as an independent service, and developing a distinctive identity.
  • The small size of the Space Force relative to other services has the potential to limit its leverage in the defense community.


  • Define and clarify space warfighting missions by developing and promulgating a coherent space warfighting theory and developing weapon and support systems.
  • Control resources and public relations by advocating for a separate total obligation authority for the Space Force and for the creation of distinct Space Force offices for legislative liaison and public affairs.
  • Find creative ways to manage career fields and develop senior leaders. Partner with the Air Force to develop "space tracks" to prepare Air Force officers to serve in the Space Force and work with Congress to draw from the Air Force and other services to meet general officer requirements.
  • Work closely with other services and organizations to define and manage new relationships by (1) retaining appropriate space expertise within the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps; (2) establishing liaisons and new relationships to effectively support unique service requirements; (3) increasing space representation at combatant commands; and (4) crafting formal agreements to specify and tailor services that the Air Force would provide to the Space Force.
  • Establish a formal monitoring and evaluation process to adapt to changes in organizational priorities and external factors.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by Major General Clinton Crosier, Deputy, Deputy Chief of Staff, Strategy, Integration and Requirements, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, and conducted within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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