The Space Force became the newest branch of the US military in 2019, and the US Air Force Academy (USAFA) commissions about 100 cadets as Space Force officers each year. This is around 10% of each graduating class. To prepare cadets for future Space Force roles, the Air Force Academy has added more Space Force officers to the staff, increased space oriented academic programs, and created summer training opportunities that expose cadets to life as a Space Force junior officer. The Space Policy Show recently devoted an episode to Space Force training at the Air Force Academy. I thought this was an excellent overview of what cadets experience. It should be of interest to students considering applying to the Air Force Academy.
There are several majors associated with space, including Astronautical Engineering and Space Operations. However, cadets in any major can also complete the Space Warfighting minor. There are four different tracks within the minor: Operator, Intel, Digital, and Acquisition. Each track has several required courses plus related electives that cadets can choose from to meet the minimum 15 credits.
Exposure to the Space Force starts with required briefings as part of the professional training for new freshman cadets. Opportunities to learn from Space Force officers continue throughout the four years at USAFA. Space related clubs include the Cadet Space Operations Squadron, an astronomy club, rocketry club, and a strategy & policy club. These activities are open to any cadets, not just those aiming for the Space Force.
Cadet summer training traditionally includes the Operations Air Force program, where rising juniors learn about potential career fields at Air Force bases around the US. In Summer 2021, through the new Operations Space Force program, around 70 cadets visited Space Force bases to get a deeper orientation to what they might do if they become Space Force officers.
Finally, the Air Force Academy is developing a program for rising seniors called Azimuth. This is an intensive summer training and assessment program modeled on the Naval Academy’s Leatherneck training for prospective Marine Corps officers. The Azimuth program will draw from pre-astronaut candidate training to “motivate, inform and also evaluate” cadets. The Space Force assignment board will consider performance in Azimuth, academics, and extracurricular activities when making service assignments decisions.
Over forty Air Force Academy alumni have become astronauts and the Air Force has many space related missions. However, the Space Force is more than just space operators. The Air Force Academy plans to expose cadets to the range of responsibilities held by future Space Force officers. The goal of these initiatives are to generally increase “space mindedness” for all cadets. This will help them in their careers, whether they commission as Space Force or Air Force Officers.
There will be very few opportunities to commission into the Space Force from other service academies. According to Col. Jeffrey Greenwood, the US Space Force Liaison to the Air Force Academy “If you want to come to the Space Force, you need to come to the Space Force Academy – and that is USAFA.” This echos comments from Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond (the service chief of the Space Force) in June 2021. Because the Space Force only brings in around 300 officers a year, he doesn’t see a need for a separate Space Force Academy. The largest group of officers will come from USAFA and Air Force ROTC. The Space Force also has a University Partnership Program to reach out to college STEM majors who are interested in space.
High school students interested in the Space Force should watch the whole episode. It will give you a broad view of what training you might expect as a cadet. It may even suggest topics to discuss in application essays or during interviews. If the idea of attending a service academy sounds interesting, consider applying for one of the academy summer leadership programs when you are a high school junior.