Space Force: Part 4, Organizational Concepts

A few words on organization of the Space Force, before I dive into ridiculous amounts of detail on exactly how it will be organized.  Top level organization is in Part 3, reflecting missions described in Part 2.  For a discussion of why or why not to create a space force see Part 1.

Since most military in the Space Force will come from the Air Force, The new service will start off using Air Force regulations and procedures, career fields, organizational structures, etc. Then they will shoehorn some Army career fields into the Air Force system. In the Air Force model, military career fields are divided into Operations (including pilots, space operators, intelligence, etc.), Maintenance (aircraft or missile maintenance), Support (running air bases) and Medical. Those four career categories don’t include every airman, but do cover most of them. They reflect the four groups that make up the bulk of a typical Air Force wing.

Organization level is where each organization fits into the hierarchy. In the Air Force, organization levels (neglecting higher headquarters) are wing, group, squadron, flight, from higher to lower. What grade of officer is in charge of each level of unit? A wing commander could be a brigadier general or a colonel. A group commander is usually a colonel. A squadron could be a lieutenant colonel or a major. A flight is often not a separate unit at all, just a component of a squadron, but can be a unit commanded typically by a captain or major. The Army (very rough) equivalents of these units are brigade commanded by a colonel (far in the past, by a brigadier general), regiment (leaving out a lot of complication here; just bear with me) commanded by a colonel, battalion commanded by a lieutenant colonel, and company (or battery of artillery) commanded by a captain or major. Army and Navy units will be converted to the Space (Air) Force model. Here is more information on Air Force organization if you really want to dive in.

How many people in each kind of unit? That depends on mission. Operations squadrons may be very small, and have a lot of officers relative to enlisted airmen. Support squadrons (security forces in particular) need a lot of airmen to get the mission done. A maintenance squadron could have six hundred airmen and just three officers. Other squadrons could have 100 or fewer people. A wing or brigade typically has a few thousand airmen or soldiers, but some are much smaller. The 100th Missile Defense Brigade has only 300 soldiers, because those are all that are required to run the missile defense system.

Units exist at bases.  Today, units performing the space mission are at Air Force bases, Army posts, and Navy installations.  Many Air Force bases with a space mission (Peterson, Los Angeles, Malmstrom) will naturally switch over to the Space Force.  Bases will not change service if their space missions are only one part of a larger set of missions (White Sands Missile Range, Point Mugu, Minot).

In the Air Force, typically there is one wing on a base, that ‘owns’ the base. That may make sense for flying operations, but is far less important for space operations. Multiple wings with different missions could share a base. A space wing could have component squadrons stationed at other bases run by other wings. Also, the four-group wing structure will need to change to suit the Space Force. Air Force flying wings have huge maintenance groups, comprising nearly half the airmen in a wing. Satellites in orbit do not return to the ground for maintenance, so space wings will not need maintenance groups in most cases. While an Air Force wing has only one operations group (there may be rare exceptions), there is no need to restrict space wings in that way.  Multiple operations groups are fine if that makes the wing’s mission work. Where the Space Force will stay close to the Air Force’s organization is in support groups and medical groups. Each base will have one support group that takes care of the base, keeping it supplied, housed, secure, communicating, etc. Each base will have one of some kind of hospital or clinic, typically organized as a medical group. If space units are stationed on a space base, one of the space wings at that base will own the support group and medical group. If present on an Air Force base, the Air Force will own those units. On an Army base, the Army will have organizations that provide comparable functions.

Everything I have talked about so far applies to the operating forces of the Space Force, assigned to Space Command. Development organizations in the Space Development Agency will not be units with commanders, but offices with directors, and will consist primarily of civilian employees of the Space Force, with some officers and enlisted Spacemen in the mix.

A consideration when organizing units is span of control. A commander typically has three to six subordinate units directly under him. Smaller units can be grouped together into larger units so that the top commander doesn’t have to deal with each little part himself. An Air Force wing commander typically has four groups plus a headquarters staff led by his vice commander. Each group has three to six squadrons under it, and smaller functions are grouped into a support squadron. For example, an operations support squadron (OSS) has air traffic control, weather, intelligence, aircrew training, and other functions so the group commander can supervise one OSS commander instead of several flight commanders with varied missions.

Span of control is where the Air Force space community is a bit broken. Whoever designed 21st Space Wing completely forgot about span of control, in an effort to have one wing with one operations group. 21st Operations Group has five space warning squadrons, a space warning operating location (OL), four space control squadrons, and three space control detachments. That’s thirteen squadrons or other similar elements.  Sorry, that’s dumb.  Many of these units are at different bases around the world, far from their parent wing at Peterson AFB. Who actually thought that was workable? I propose two options to regain a sane span of control: two operations groups under 21st Space Wing (one for space warning and one for space control), or put the space warning squadrons and OL into another wing entirely. I propose to put them in 460th Space Wing, which has a small operations group and a space warning mission already.

Anyway, those are some thoughts to help the reader understand some of the whys and wherefores of military organization as it will apply to the Space Force.  This post has run on and on, and I as a small animal am not yet any closer to getting my own furry tail into space.  To keep this post a reasonable length, I’ll share and describe the detailed org chart in the next post.



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