Space Force Recruiting Is Strong, but Army, Navy, USAF Woes Don’t Help

As the Army, Navy, and Air Force suffer recruiting troubles, the Space Force has been an anomaly, turning away thousands of applicants eager to join the new force. But that doesn’t mean the recruiting woes of the other services may not ultimately impact the Space Force anyway, warns Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David D. Thompson. 

Interservice transfers could be affected by the other services’ recruiting struggles, he said.

“We need about 700 new recruits off the street, but we still need—and will for the next several years need—about 700 interservice transfers from the other services,” Thompson told the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee. “And while we’re doing very well in recruiting off the street, as the other services have challenges in their recruiting, it becomes more difficult for them to release folks for interservice transfer.” 

Pressed by subcommittee chair Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) on exactly how many transfers could be affected, Thompson said it’s too early to tell. 

“The question will be working with the services, how much can they afford to give us, and we just don’t know that yet,” Thompson said. “We’ll need to wait and negotiate later this year.” 

Most Space Force Guardians started in the Air Force, but many have transferred from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. The Space Force took in 720 Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in fiscal 2022, and announced it was taking in 511 more in fiscal 2023.  

Another interservice transfer board for fiscal 2024 is slated to start accepting applications in the “late spring of 2023,” according to a Space Force release. 

It is unclear whether the 2023 or 2024 transfers—or how many—will be affected by negotiations with the other services. 

However, the other services’ vice chiefs laid out in plain detail how much they’re struggling. Army Gen. Randy A. George said his branch is likely to miss its recruiting goal by 10,000 Soldiers this fiscal year, while Adm. Lisa M. Franchetti said the Navy projects to fall short by 6,000 new Sailors. 

For the Air Force total force, Gen. David W. Allvin said the shortfall will be 10,000. “That’s about 3,400 in the Active-Duty, 3,100 in the Reserves, and over 4,000 in the Guard.” 

When it comes to recruiting entirely new Guardians, the Space Force is still on track to hit its goals, Thompson told lawmakers. And as the service grows and matures, the cohort of Guardians without prior military service will grow too—at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman noted that roughly one-third of enlisted Guardians and a quarter of officers have only ever served in the Space Force. 

Transfers, however, remain important as the service continues to consolidate space missions from across the Department of Defense. In FY 2022, the Space Force absorbed five Army Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Centers, the Naval Satellite Operations Center and more. Leaders hope to accept the Army’s Joint Tactical Ground Stations in October.