Leveraging Collaboration for Enhanced Space Force Education

By  LTC Stacy Godshall

The paradigm for developing the space professionals of the next generation for both the military and civilian sectors may benefit from a more collaborative approach. This collaborative effort will not only address some of the possible shortfalls and challenges that will be discussed in this paper, but it will also highlight an innovative and pioneering synthesis of current best practices for the education of space professionals. Collaborative space education of the future will enable space personnel to maintain the accelerated pace of advancement expected to achieve peer overmatch. One way this collaborative and integrated space education paradigm shift will accomplish this is by providing the space community, specifically the Space Force (if approved by Congress), with more personnel with space-related Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees and space-related work experience.

Generations past and present have impressively ensured that the 19th and 20th century security and defense needs have been met, but the circumstances are changing with regard to future threats, workforce demographics, and technological advances in space systems. With those changes to the circumstances and situation, we need to consider transforming the way in which we meet the needs of the future regarding space education.

     Moreover, as recent events have proven, there are many who feel we need a Space Force comprised of skilled and knowledgeable personnel who are familiar with many facets of space system design, development, and operations. In fact, some argue that “Space warfighters must have true expertise in the physics, engineering, and operational challenges unique to space. Any new space warfighting cadre must be deeply educated, not just trained. It must be brilliant… This literally is rocket science. Educational rigor is essential, and a future space cadre must be up to the learning challenge.”1 Space Professionals, especially those in the Space Force, will need more space-related educational rigor, more space-related experience earlier in their career, and more exposure to the other sectors of the space enterprise. Examining the past and present best practices of education and synthesizing those approaches into a new model will be the means to accomplish these ends.

Perhaps the most relevant and time-sensitive challenge to the DoD and the Space Force leadership will be the organizing, training, and equipping of the Space Force as well as the need to consider the educational aspects of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, education, personnel, facilities, and policy (DOTMELPF-P; E added to emphasize education). There has been a lot of discussion in this past year about how the Space Force would be organized (at least initially) and its potential mission set, but there has not been much discussion about how to educate the Space Force. Perhaps because having such a discussion may seem to be premature. The only information related to this is the following from the United States Space Force Strategic Overview released in February 2019: “To build the Space Force, DoD will utilize inter-service transfers, initial lateral entry, direct commission authorities, career incentive pays and retention bonuses, and waivers to accession policy. The DoD does not propose establishing a dedicated Space Force service academy. A number of cadets from the existing service academies will be commissioned into the Space Force, as well as from other accession sources such as Officer Candidate School and Reserve Officer Training Corps programs.”2 But, there will be many near-term and long-term challenges associated with simply transferring personnel from existing branches into the Space Force via these methods, and in a very short time those challenges will cause a more significant set of challenges for not only the Space Force but also for the other branches as was the case in the early years of the Air Force.

Space Education Strategy
A possible educational strategy presented in the media recently was the following: “There are no current plans to establish a new service academy for Space Force. Like the Marines who draw from midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, it is presumed any future Space Force officers will come from the Air Force Academy.”3 The U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) does have an Astronautical Engineering program with associated majors, but accession of USAFA cadets will not produce sufficient numbers of Space Force junior officers. Likewise, the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) has a Space and Missile Defense Program with a Space Science major and minor as well as a Geospatial Information Science major. The U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) has a space-related program and degrees. But the Space Force will need more junior officers than the small numbers that are currently accessed from the combined USAFA, USMA, and USNA space-related programs.

Specifically, with the total Space Force estimated to start at about 15,000 personnel, we could speculate that 50% (7,500) will be civilians, 20% (3,000) will be enlisted and warrant officer combined, and 30% (4500) will be officers. If we estimate a 10% per year accessions requirement for officers, then the Space Force will need to access 450 new officers annually. But USAFA accesses only about 80 junior officers with space-related education annually; USMA only about 75 junior officers with space-related education annually, and USNA only about 50 annually. That totals only 205 junior officers with space-related education. If we account for estimation error and future growth of their respective programs that may reach 225-250 at best, which leaves an accessions shortfall of 200-225 junior officers annually, not enough to have their own ROTC programs. A new collaborative educational approach should be able to fill those shortfalls with personnel educated at civilian undergraduate institutions who won’t need to be in ROTC programs.

Moreover, the Space Force will need officers with a more collaborative experience that can be created by cross-functional educational teams comprised of military, public, and private sectors to “grow the roots of a National Space Force” as discussed in The State of Space 2019 speech by Tom Zelibor.4

     Leveraging collaborative approaches, such as partnerships with industry, academia, and non-DoD government organizations, are just some facets of a model that will enhance the space professional education of the future. The pedagogical (the way students are taught and how they learn) benefits of these partnerships should be examined as well since these collaborative partnerships will yield significant educational and experiential advantages over other possibilities.

One manifestation of these partnerships would be in the form of internships which offer several benefits for higher education pedagogy including: contextual application of knowledge; experiential learning; and immersion learning. In general, internships benefit all parties involved: the student intern, the organization hosting the intern, and the parent/home organization that sponsored the intern. The value of internships and industry collaboration has been leveraged by the military already through the DoD Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) scholarship internships, internships for service academy cadets, and the Army’s “Training With Industry” assignments for mid-career soldiers.

Since the space enterprise is already inherently collaborative and interdisciplinary, space education of the future should be more collaborative in nature. The vehicles for that collaboration should include physical and virtual collaborative spaces, online programs, and multiple internships with a variety of organizations.

Synthesis: A New Space Education Model
To visualize the future space professional’s education, let us synthesize these thoughts and processes to create an innovative model. Imagine an educational experience and space professional development standard that incorporates all the following best practices: superb civilian university space-related undergraduate degree programs; mobile collaborative educational teams; internships with multiple space enterprise sectors; virtual collaboration; high-quality, accredited, online graduate degree programs; and military space operations training and experience.

The collaborative partners that would deliver all aspects of this model to the young space professional include: academia with undergraduate space-related programs; military space organizations; other government space-related agencies (NASA, NRO, NGA, DARPA); U.S. Army for basic training and introductory space training and experience; space industry partners (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, a.i. Solutions, AGI, JHU/APL, SpaceX, etc.) for internships; U.S. Air Force for a military space internship; and online space-related accredited graduate programs.

Envision a group of students at a university that offers a space-related undergraduate degree (yes, there are many more now than most of us realize). There is a spark of interest in space when they see a notice announcing a “Space Force Introductory Course” offered for two weeks (80 hours) during the summer which their university will count as three credit hours toward their degree.

These young space professionals sign up for the course which is taught by a Space Force Mobile Education Team and they gain not only knowledge of military space operations, but also basics of the science and engineering of space systems. That Space Force Mobile Education Team also in a way acts as a recruiting team helping inspire the students to want to join the Space Force. The young space professionals continue their space education as they enroll in a space-related major or minor at their university.

During the undergraduate student’s junior year, they decide if the Space Force / Space Command is a way in which they want to serve their Nation as well as gain valuable space operational experience. In addition, during their junior year they have a security background investigation initiated to facilitate future experiences in this educational model. During the summer after their junior year, they intern at a U.S. Air Force or U.S. Space Force / Space Command strategic unit such as Joint Forces Space Component Command to gain knowledge of overall military space activities and operations to further understand if committing to the Space Force / Space Command is within their personal and professional goals and objectives.

Some of those same undergraduate students studying space-related topics then commit to the Space Force / Space Command in their senior year with an initial contract that includes a 1.5 year-long apprentice phase as an enlisted member of the U.S. Army to gain basic military training and to experience the warfighter’s space needs and capabilities first hand.

These young space professionals successfully complete the apprenticeship and earn a promotion with a lateral transfer to the U.S. Space Force. Then they commence a second internship at a government agency such as NASA, NGA, or NRO. These young Space Force apprentices then advance to the next phase which is a five-week-long Space Force Officer Candidate School / Basic Officer Leadership Course hybrid conducted at a location at or near the location of the U.S. Space Force / Space Command Headquarters (USSF/USSPACECOM HQ) in order to keep them connected to current operations and events. For instance, if the USSF HQ is located on Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL then this group of young Space Force candidates will be moved to Huntsville and will attend the course for five weeks. This group successfully completes the course and is commissioned into the USSF.

The group of newly minted Space Force officers then stays in Huntsville for the next two years while they pursue a master’s degree from a university that offers a high-quality, accredited space-related online degree. Why a master’s degree? Over the last seven years, the average percentage of Army space operations officers selected for MAJ, LTC, and COL that possessed a master’s degree has been 41%, 79%, and 100% respectively. Moreover, “…the majority of master’s degrees in the U.S. are awarded not in traditional fields associated with the idyllic ‘grad school’ notion of decades past (such as arts and the humanities) – but in professional or technical disciplines…”5 These trends show that a graduate degree is valued and is a significant return on investment and thus will be of significant benefit to the Space Force in general and to the Space Force officers in particular. Why stay near the USSF HQ and pursue online graduate education for this part of the development and educational model? To enable significant collaboration throughout the USSF population and throughout the duration of their master’s degree program. The USSF HQ leadership could hold monthly collaboration meetings in which all graduate school participants would share their latest insights from their respective programs. In addition, this group would be able to learn about current operations and needs from the collaborative group and from USSF HQ leadership monthly and take that knowledge back into their graduate program experience. This would meld the physical collaborative process with the virtual collaborative process to yield significant synergistic effects. During the summer between their first and second year of the graduate program, they then intern for 8-10 weeks at one of the aforementioned space industry partners to understand and experience industry’s current efforts.

This group of young space professionals then completes the two years and earns a master’s degree. At this point they have obtained a space-related undergraduate degree, completed 1.5 years of military training and experience, conducted three internships from three distinct sectors of the space enterprise, earned a space-related master’s degree, and are about to commence their initial operational or strategic assignment as a very well prepared U.S. Space Force officer.

Should these young space professionals decide after their initial operational or strategic assignment as a U.S. Space Force / Space Command officer that they no longer want to serve our Nation in uniform, they will have a vast set of experiences and a depth of knowledge which any organization in the space enterprise would greatly appreciate. These young space professionals would then be poised to truly be uniquely qualified to lead the world in the space industry, space security, and space commerce.

In conclusion, this paper explored best practices and outlined an innovative, pioneering synthesis of those approaches for Space Force personnel education. It is recommended that this model be discussed by the soon-to-be formed Space Force Headquarters and Space Command leadership teams and the National Space Council (particularly the Users’ Advisory Group, National Security Space Subcommittee, and the Outreach and Education Subcommittee) to examine new partnership constructs and as a big idea in continuing to advance American leadership in space!

1 Brown, Owen and Roesler, Gordon, The requirements for a brilliant Space Force. https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/401281-the-requirements-for-a-brilliant-space-force

2 https://media.defense.gov/2019/Mar/01/2002095012/-1/-1/1/UNITED-STATES-SPACE-FORCE-STRATEGIC-OVERVIEW.PDF

3 https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-signs-directive-ordering-pentagon-to-draft-space-force-legilsation-for-congress

4 Zelibor, Tom, The State of Space 2019. www.spacefoundation.org

5 Gallagher, Sean, In Defense of the Master’s Degree. https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/04/04/in-defense-of-the-masters-degree/#78934ec6492e