All new Air Force officer accessions headed for careers in the former space and missile operations career field will be classified as either a space operations officer or nuclear and missile operations officer. (Matthew Jurgens / Air Force)
Space and missile officers will no longer be part of a single career field.
The Air Force has split the 13S career field into two separate ones, in an effort to expose junior officers to the space systems they may be in charge of sooner.
Now 13S officers will be focused only on space operations, and officers in nuclear missile operations will have their own career field with the 13N designator.
The move, announced in mid-February, puts about 1,900 officers in space operations and 1,350 in nuclear missile operations.
The reason: About 85 percent of officers in the combined career field were starting their careers in missile operations. That delayed space operators from moving into their specialties until sometimes six years into their careers, said Maj. Gen. Kevin McLaughlin, director of Space Operations.
The change will put more space officers at Space Command right out of school.
"We can develop from the outset, all the way through the officer's first assignment," McLaughlin said.
Now prospective officers planning careers in space operations will need to have a science, technology, engineering or medical degree, as opposed to the previous requirement for a nonspecific undergraduate degree. Missile operations officers are still under the general requirement for an undergraduate degree.
The leadership of Space Command and Global Strike Command had been discussing the need for a change in the career field management since Global Strike Command was created in 2009, but top Air Force leaders directed the commands to move forward with the split during high-level meetings last summer.
Gen. William Shelton, commander of Space Command, pressed for the change to be able to train officers earlier and generate more experience at the start of their careers, because the Air Force is facing different challenges in space now than 20 or 30 years ago, McLaughlin said.
For nukes officers, establishing a specific career field will offer more career opportunities, said Col. Zannis Pappas, the career field manager for 13N. Officers are needed early in their careers to operate missile stations, but that need drops off sharply after about six or so years into their careers. This will give those officers the ability to move forward in 13N or cross-train to other career fields in Global Strike Command, he said.