Recently the commander of the Space Force’s Space Operations Command visited members of the Air Force Reserve’s 310th Space Wing, the bulk of America’s 1,600 space reservists, to discuss the Space Force.
Many reservists were anxious to hear about the Space Force’s plan to fold them into the new service. Active-duty personnel they work with started wearing Space Force uniforms months ago, but reservists were still forced to wear the colors of the Air Force. Many reservists were excited to join the Space Force, but rumors that Space Force leaders favored a “single component” Space Force that absorbed the reservists but eliminated any reserve organization itself, spread quickly. Unfortunately but characteristically, the general provided reservists no new information regarding their place in the new service.
Even though reservists complete 26 percent of its total mission, the Space Force has held reservists at arm’s length since its inception. Starved of information by leadership, initial reservist excitement toward the Space Force has quickly given way to fear springing from uncertainty — mostly about the single component plan. How is a member that serves part-time supposed to compete for promotion and leadership opportunities against people in uniform — and visible to their commander — year round? Will reserve units such as squadrons still exist in a single component Space Force? If so, will reservists lead them? Has the Space Force considered any of these concerns at all?
The Space Force’s own actions suggest reservists are right to be worried. Even as the Space Force remains secretive of their reserve plans, they have taken direct action to kill alternative ideas. Space Force leadership rejected initial Air Force Reserve space recommendations in 2019, delaying reserve Space Force integration for years. They have repeatedly delayed reporting substantively on reserve issues, most recently ignoring a March 31 deadline for updating Congress on their plans. Furthermore, they successfully lobbied to kill the Senate plan to establish a Space Force Reserve Command in the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.
Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond admitted last December that the Space Force had done “a lot of design work” on incorporating reservists into the Space Force. However, the team that accomplished this work apparently did not include any space reservists. Worse, the Space Force feels no need to solicit input or even brief space reservists on the broad goals of the plan they are considering before attempting to sell it to Congress.
What little information space reservists can get from the national press suggests that the Space Force is carefree about reserve concerns. In a February article, Space Force leaders praised how their single component plan would allow Space Force guardians to do things like “bank time” to start a family or finish an educational degree program, all innovations focused solely on active-duty concerns. Even in an article about the reserve, the Space Force can’t be bothered to mention reservists.
Blowback from these remarks prompted Chief of the Air Force Reserve Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee to directly address his space reservists. In an email, Scobee assured them that “nothing is finalized” and that his job was “to ensure we take care of our people” including “advancement, education, and leadership opportunities for our full AND part-time force.” A month later, Scobee commented that the “Air Force Reserve is going with the Space Force in lock step” but also affirmed he would ensure that space reservists, whether full or part time, would “be taken care of.”
History warns that Scobee may not be able to do both. Reservists have often had to protect themselves from the plans of ignorant or even hostile active-duty leaders. In the 1920s, Army reservists had to struggle to secure funds and time for guaranteed training periods and a separate reserve organization against active-duty resistance, ultimately convincing Congress to authorize regular training programs that all services’ reservists enjoy today. In 1932, Air reservists felt compelled to declare that the “uniqueness of the problems of the Air Corps Reserve can best be dealt with by men in close contact with the difficulties themselves” rather than a panel of active-duty airmen. Space Force leaders are not unique in presuming to know reserve affairs better than reservists. They are simply taking their place in a long American history of active-duty arrogance regarding reserve matters. Will space reservists follow suit and rise to defend their own rights as their fellow reservists have done in the past?
A single component Space Force may, in fact, be a great idea. However, a plan developed solely by active-duty Space Force and a smattering of non-space Air Force Reserve personnel simply carries too much moral hazard to be acceptable. Both groups may receive significant benefits from a single component Space Force, but they are also largely insulated from its consequences. Space reservists, without any hand in the plan’s development, alone carry the burden of its potential risks.
Certainly, space reservists should take every opportunity to work in good faith with the active duty to successfully integrate reserve service into the Space Force. However, space reservists must take the major role in planning. The Space Force can extend an olive branch to their reserve partners by releasing their current plan and soliciting feedback. Further, the Air Force Reserve must establish a panel of space reservists across all ranks to represent reserve interests in Space Force planning. Combining full-time and part-time military space professionals to develop a world-class Space Force organizational plan would be an outstanding first test for a single component Space Force. If done well, the Space Force may even emerge as the envy of all services in terms of active-reserve integration.
Until the Space Force treats its space reservists as equals, however, its leaders should expect that any reserve plan they develop will be dead on arrival.
Brent Ziarnick is an assistant professor in the Department of Spacepower at the Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and an Air Force Reserve officer. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Air University, the Space Force, the Air Force Reserve, the Department of Defense or the US government.
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