The Space Force is turning to the Marine Corps and NASA for its newest idea in officer recruitment.

The fledgling service is creating a program to determine which candidates are the best fit to join the Space Force after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Col. Jeffrey Greenwood, the school’s USSF liaison, said Thursday during an online discussion hosted by the federally funded think tank Aerospace Corp.

That initiative, named “Azimuth,” is based on the four-week “Leatherneck” program used at the U.S. Naval Academy to vet future Marines’ leadership, physical fitness and military skills. It will also resemble the physical and mental evaluations that NASA uses for potential astronaut candidates.

Azimuth could run over the summer between a cadet’s sophomore and junior years at USAFA as part of a broader Space Force prep segment, Greenwood said.

“We’re going to try to implement that here for next summer,” he said. “Ideally, you could see cadets who want to do Space Force be able to … spend three weeks doing ‘Ops Space Force’ and another three weeks doing Azimuth. That is going to fine-tune and help us determine who those candidates should be that we would then select for the Space Force.”

Ops Space Force takes after an existing air-focused program at USAFA that allows students to shadow airmen and the military aviation industry to better understand those missions. Its first iteration ran this summer, taking about 70 cadets on trips to space ops and satellite production facilities across Colorado.

Officials hope the result helps motivate and inform cadets, and helps leaders evaluate them, before they are chosen to become a second lieutenant and Space Force guardian. The team plans to present its plan to Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David “DT” Thompson by the end of August for his approval.

The Colorado Springs-based academy offers one of three routes to becoming an officer in the Air Force or Space Force, alongside Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and the Reserve Officers Training Corps.

USAFA sent about 115 graduates to the Space Force this year, up from nearly 90 in 2020. The Class of 2022 will include 96 guardians chosen from a pool of 120 prospects as the school begins to level out its annual contribution, Greenwood said.

Each graduating class comprises about 1,000 cadets, and the academy till sends the vast majority of those second lieutenants to the Air Force.

Next year’s group is slated to include 55 space operators — who handle systems like GPS satellites and missile-detection radars — 17 space acquisition personnel, 16 engineers, four cyber operators and four intelligence officers. Greenwood expects the Space Force will continue that breakdown through at least the Class of 2025, now the incoming freshmen at USAFA.

Another four students from the sister military academies can earn a spot to cross-commission into the Space Force as well, Greenwood said.

The Space Force currently has about 16,000 military and civilian employees who have formally transferred into the service or are assigned from another of the armed forces. It plans to woo more high schoolers in the coming years through a growing relationship with recruiters.

“If you want to come to the Space Force, you need to come to the Space Force academy, and that is USAFA,” Greenwood said. “Coming here gets you the best chance of commissioning into the Space Force.”

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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