General David Thompson, second in command of the US Space Force, is aware of the jokes about his job. Nickname teasing Guardians (of the galaxy?). The playful accusation – by George Takei no less – that his logo is a “Star Trek” rip-off. And the oldest joke of all: the
comedy “Space Force”, starring Steve Carell.
The satire debuted in May 2020, five months after President Donald Trump created the real-life Space Force. As Thompson and his Pentagon colleagues tuned in for up to 16 hours a day to get the real Space Force off the ground, they took the time to watch their fictional Netflix counterparts attempt to do the same. “There are some parts of the show that are just plain hilarious,” Thompson said. “We may or may not refer to it every day in the office.” The second season of “Space Force,” which premiered Feb. 18, continues to be a case of art mimicking life, as General Mark Naird (Carell) and his team “attempt to prove their worth to a new presidential administration”.
Space Force was a laughing stock from the moment Trump announced it — and arguably funnier than “Space Force.” Trump talked about the Space Force – the first new branch of the armed forces in 73 years – as if it were some genius idea he dreamed up in the shower. His campaign launched a survey inviting the public to vote on the logo, and he suggested his first lady design the uniforms, Time reported. The Space Force didn’t help either, releasing tweet like, “Ask yourself, ‘did I just use space?'”
But two years after its creation, the new military branch has successfully transformed itself from a national farce into a force to be reckoned with in Washington. Its leader, General John Raymond, is one of Biden’s top military advisers. It professionalized its operations, issuing a formal doctrine defining space power as its own type of military power. And he is taken seriously by foreign policy experts who say he could end up playing a central but classified role in Ukraine. “Perhaps it’s the conflict that takes the Space Force past the Trump-era laugh factor and shows the importance of their mission,” said Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Space Force. not-for-profit strategic and international studies. As the Space Force emerges from the stupidity that defined it under Trump, it appears to be its most significant contribution as president.
Space Force’s turning point came about a month into the Biden administration when Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, poked fun at it during a press briefing. “Wow, Space Force,” she said, clearly puzzled. “I’m happy to check with our Space Force point of contact. I don’t know who it is.” The backlash from agency champions — including Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the House Armed Services Committee’s top Republican — was so fast and furious that Psaki was forced to backtrack within hours. “We look forward to the continued work of Space Force,” she said. tweeted, “and invite team members to visit us anytime in the briefing room to share an update on their important work.” The next day, she added that the Space Force had “the full support of the Biden administration.”
The Space Force says its mission is “to defend our nation and its freedom to operate in space.” In practice, this has nothing to do with shooting down unidentified aerial objects or establishing a base on the moon. That means monitoring and piloting US military satellites that provide GPS to the world, detecting missile launches around the world, and keeping an eye out for space junk in orbit to make sure it doesn’t collide with anything. important thing. The branch monitors the location of some 30,000 near-Earth objects – 7,000 of which are still active – each traveling at around 17,000 miles per hour.
“Some don’t even realize how much they depend on space every day,” Thompson told Insider. “It’s as simple and easy as the blue dot that people track on their iPhone, powered by the GPS constellation. Space Force provides that.”
The Space Force is a subset of the Air Force, in the same way that the Marine Corps is part of the Navy. Its motto is “Semper Supra” or “Always on top”. It has 13,600 members, divided between 6,900 soldiers and 6,700 civilians. At its peak, a spokesman said, it expected to grow to around 16,000 – by far the smallest branch of the armed forces, behind the Coast Guard and its 50,000 members.
Yet even a tiny Space Force seemed a long way off when Trump first publicly thought of it in March 2018. “I was saying this the other day – because we do an awful lot of work in space – I said, “Maybe we need a new force,” he said at a Navy base in San Diego. “We’ll call it Space Force. And I wasn’t really serious. And then I said, ‘What a great idea. Maybe we should do this. It could happen. This could be the big breakup story.'”
Even after Trump got serious about creating a Space Force, he seemed to imagine missiles on Mars (“Space is a battlefield,” he liked to say), not the crucial but more mundane things. that the Space Force does today. He also politicized him, slapping his logo on his unofficial campaign merchandise — a move that blindsided the Pentagon. Soon supporters at Trump rallies were chanting “Space Force! Space Force!”
The truth is that Space Force’s conceptual roots go back to the Cold War. The idea started gaining momentum in 2001, when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warned of a “Pearl Harbor space”. In 2017, the Democratic-led House passed a bipartisan bill to create a space corps from existing Air Force resources and personnel. But the Air Force opposed the measure, and it fizzled in the Senate. It took Trump to embrace the idea to make it a reality.
From the start, Space Force supporters desperately tried to distance it from Trump. “We need to establish a space force because we need to keep global GPS, ATMs around the world safe, and most importantly, your safety,” Rep. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, told his constituents. . in Nashville the month Trump signed the Space Force. “It’s not Trump’s idea. He tried to hijack it long after the House Armed Services Committee voted 60-1, on an entirely bipartisan and nearly unanimous basis, to establish a Space Corps. Trump to a Space Force doesn’t make it a Republican idea.”
Now that Biden has embraced the Space Force, the branch has become an established part of the national security apparatus. Its leaders enjoy scarce real estate in the Pentagon’s E-Ring, in an area known as the Glass Doors, and Raymond is one of eight commanders serving on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Last February, a Morning Consult poll found nearly two-thirds of Americans supported Biden’s decision to keep the Space Force. In December, Biden called the Guardians, as well as Marines and other service members, to wish them a Merry Christmas.
That’s not to say that Space Force’s reputational rehabilitation is complete. The branch suffered another round of mockery in September, when the uniforms it had obsessed over the past year drew many comparisons to those of “Battlestar Galactica.” And in October, a Spirit Airlines employee refused to give a military discount to a Space Force captain. The employee didn’t believe the Space Force was real, even after the captain produced his military ID.
But now that the Space Force has plenty of government jobs and military contracts to offer, opposition in Washington is beginning to melt. Senator Mark Kelly, the former astronaut who called the Space Force a “dumb idea” during his campaign in 2019, now backs the branch. He recently met Raymond at the Pentagon, and he told Insider that he was focused on providing Space Force with the resources to “do a really tough job.”
The new branch is also beginning to gain recruits. Andrew LaGassa, a 22-year-old first class cadet at the Air Force Academy, decided to join the Space Force despite some criticism from friends. “It’s your typical, ‘Oh, a space cadet,’ joke,” LaGassa said. “It took a bit of explaining to go, ‘Hey, what are we doing? Why do we need a Space Force? But my friends from the academy have been very supportive. Most of them also go to Space Force. I feel like my generation understands that it’s not just a bunch of satellites doing nothing out there.” To help with recruiting, the Space Force launched a website in December to to mark its second anniversary. “Some people look at the stars and ask, ‘What if?’,” the site said. “Our job is to have an answer.”
As for the powder keg in Ukraine, Biden said the United States won’t put boots on the ground, but the Space Force will have its eyes in the sky. “One of the main types of support we can provide to Ukrainian forces is surveillance information to help inform what they are doing,” Harrison, the aerospace expert, told Insider. “And a lot of that intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data will come from space assets.”
The Space Force was seen as a small, focused branch of the military. But government bureaucracies, especially military bureaucrats, usually find a way to get bigger. In the coming weeks, the Biden administration is expected to roll out a record defense budget of more than $770 billion. Harrison, who recently spoke with Raymond, said the Space Force chief had reason to believe his fledgling branch would see a healthy $15.5 billion budget increase. And in Washington, as in so many other places, money is the ultimate measure of power and respect.
“If Russia invades,” Harrison said, “what the Space Force is doing may not be made fully public. Much of it will be classified. It will be behind the scenes. We may not know for months. or years the full extent of how Space Force has helped deter and support our allies and partners.The budget, however, will be public, and that will be very telling.
—Additional report by Warren Rojas.