The lack of mobility between personnel in the military and the intelligence community could be a stumbling block for the Space Force, so attention must be paid to how assets will be shared effectively.
The Space Force, a sixth branch of the military proposed by the Trump administration, has received some level of support in both the House and Senate, although the details and scope of the force are still a matter of contention. While the Senate versions hews more closely to the White House’s proposal, the House has approved a Space Corps with some notable differences.
Most of the debate surrounding the Space Force has focused on the differences in how the proposals would stand up the new service and the structure of its leadership. However, during a panel held at the George Washington University Space Policy Institute, two experts on space explained why cooperation between the intelligence community and the military is important and why ability of officers to move freely between the IC and the Air Force is critical to success.
Much discussion has been on whether or not to place the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency charged with managing the nation’s spy satellite portfolio, under Space Force’s purview. Mike Vickers, the former under secretary of defense for intelligence and a principal at Telemus Group, noted that keeping the NRO separate from the nascent Space Force was a good decision — one that the White House, Congress and the Pentagon all seemed to be in alignment on.
“I think very wisely, all parties have agreed to keep it out. It would be very very disruptive,” said Vickers. “The NRO is thoroughly integrated into the IC in budgets and personnels and authorities. It’s our gold standard in space.”
Furthermore, placing the NRO under Space Force would skew the agency’s focus to supporting the new military branch instead of serving the IC and military more broadly.
“I don’t really see any gain to be brought about by bring the NRO under the Space Force that can’t be achieved through close collaboration,” he said.
The subtleties of ensuring that close collaboration are what’s missing from the current debate, argued Doug Loverro, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy.
“[The current proposals don’t] allow us to go ahead and really attack the most fundamental problem ... which is the fact that we are not creating the people who have space knowledge we want,” said Loverro.
In other words, officers need to be able to move back and forth between both the military and the intelligence community throughout their career. That’s not what’s currently happening, said Loverro. Officers who go to the NRO from the Air Force end up staying with the agency for the duration of their career instead of returning to the Air Force and bringing with them those critical insights and experiences.
Compounding the issue is the fact that NRO’s cadre system does not merge with the Air Force’s Title 5 personnel system.
In order to create that close collaboration Vickers mentioned and ensure that Space Force personnel have a strong understanding of intelligence community capabilities, the Pentagon needs to facilitate the process of officers transferring between the two, said Loverro.
“The best way to create people with the kind of space knowledge, in depth understanding, true ability to synthesize doctrine,” he said. “In order to create those people they have to have exposure to the full domain. That means they need to have a bunch of shared experiences across both sides of the domain: the intel side of the domain and the wartime side of the domain.”
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.