Space Force Warfighters Will Someday Deploy to Space, General Says

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Space Force recruiting adversisement.
Space Force recruiting adversisement. (Screengrab from U.S. Space Force video)

While U.S. Space Force members may be planet-bound for now, its warfighters will eventually deploy into orbit, according to Space Command's top operations boss.

"I think that will happen, but it's a long way off. … But at some point, yes, we will be putting humans into space," Maj. Gen. John Shaw, head of the Combined Force Space Component Command at U.S. Space Command, said Tuesday during a discussion hosted by AFWERX.

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"They may be operating command centers somewhere in the lunar environment or someplace else," he said in response to questions posed by Rick Tumlinson of the Space Frontier Foundation. Air Force Magazine was first to report Shaw's comments.

Officials have said the Space Force could eventually expand its mission beyond protecting Earth-bound warfighters by watching over assets such as communications and GPS satellites and potentially even defending human space flights, with members headed into space themselves. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett hinted at the possibility in December.

This possibility has also been evident through the service's messaging. For example, Space Force challenges new or potential troops to think beyond what's possible here on Earth in its advertisements, two of which debuted in May.

The fledgling service asks viewers to ponder: "Maybe your purpose on this planet isn't on this planet" in one commercial; in the other, a Space Force member appears in a space suit.

Media coverage on the concept of a military Space Force has been conflated with commercial space and civil space operations, for which NASA is responsible.

For example, In the Steve Carell Netflix comedy "Space Force," one of the service's critical missions is to successfully execute war games in space suits and later to put "boots on the moon."

Even President Donald Trump's reelection campaign has contributed to the confusion. For example, the Trump 2020 campaign in 2018 publicized a range of Space Force logos, including one depicting a space shuttle blasting off with the words, "Mars Awaits."

Space Force has since unveiled its official logo.

While Shaw did not give a timeline of when Space Force troops might deploy for a mission beyond Earth, the service recently marked its first deployment -- to the Middle East.

Twenty airmen assigned to the 16th Expeditionary Space Control Flight and the 609th Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, transferred into the military's newest branch during enlistment or oath of office ceremonies earlier this month, according to a news release. The airmen are in organic space career fields, such as space operations and space systems operations, officials said.

Airmen have routinely supported exercises and deployments for troops who rely on space assets on the battlefield, including satellite communications and other networking resources. But airmen who've deployed for the latest mission anticipate "watching technology and tactics evolve as the U.S. rises to thwart adversary efforts," the release said.

The transferees will still be referred to as airmen while legislation on the Space Force's rank structure is pending.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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