Missile warning radomes on Buckley Space Force Base, Colo.

Missile warning radomes on Buckley Space Force Base, Colo. U.S. Air Force / Senior Airman Danielle McBride

What is the Space Force’s new Futures Command?

Officials announced a fourth field command as part of the Air Force’s massive reoptimization effort.

The Space Force is launching a new command to determine the types of missions the service must pursue to combat future threats.

Dubbed “Space Futures Command,” officials say the new group could begin early operations by the end of the year. The command will forecast future threats, develop and validate concepts, and conduct wargames to better understand what satellites and systems the service needs. 

The new command is one of many changes the Department of the Air Force announced in February, as part of an overhaul of the Air and Space Forces for a potential war with China. 

Futures Command will include three centers: the existing Space Warfighting Analysis Center, or SWAC; a new Concepts and Technologies Center; and a new Wargaming Center. 

The Concepts and Technologies Center will develop strategies, operational concepts, and identify technology gaps, and “send the results of those concepts and the validation of those technologies then over to the wargaming center to really tease out the military utility,” Lt. Gen. Shawn Bratton, the Space Force’s chief planning officer, said in February at the National Security Space Association’s Defense and Intelligence Space Conference. 

SWAC’s organization will remain the same as it moves under Futures Command, Bratton added. The center was set up in 2021 to inform the service’s future force design using analytics. 

But while the Space Force has been reaping the benefits of SWAC’s work, they didn’t have the “upfront thinking about the operational concepts that we're pursuing,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman.

“Which missions are higher priority than others? Which technologies do we want to pursue that we think could be game changers because an adversary is pursuing [them]? What [does] the threat environment look like? What are the new missions that are coming down?” Saltzman said. 

Some of the command’s functions already exist within the Space Force, but it will aggregate efforts that were spread across the service, Saltzman told reporters at the Air & Space Forces Association Warfare Symposium in February. 

Officials haven’t detailed which specific missions the command will be looking at, but Bratton gave two examples it might study: cislunar operations and on-orbit refueling. 

The command could help the service figure out how to operate in the cislunar environment, which is the area between the geosynchronous orbit and the moon, and what kind of threats could lie in that space, Bratton said. 

And for on-orbit refueling and dynamic space operations, Bratton said there are demonstrations and experiments planned, but the command still needs to produce analytics on the military utility of on-orbit refueling and how it would be used in a future fight. 

“It's sort of like going to court, proving there's value there, and that's what Futures Command is going to have to do,” Bratton said. 

Space Force officials want to move fast with the new command. By the summer, Bratton said he’ll have a group of 10 to 15 people to help him stand up Futures Command, with the goal of reaching initial operational capability by the end of 2024.

“Gen. Saltzman and obviously the Secretary [of the Air Force] are worried about the commander piece, who’s going to be in charge, but I think we'll have some sort of IOC organization certainly in place this year,” Bratton said. 

The first step will be “mission analysis,” to figure out how the two new centers work with SWAC, and how to organize the command to “make sure we understand exactly what we're trying to attack,” Saltzman said. That will start in the summer and go into the fall.

“By late this year, we might start actually moving people and moving positions to start to stand up those centers. By next year, hopefully, we may have a solution on leadership from a headquarters standpoint and be able to start to move those decisions,” Saltzman said.

In addition to the new command, Saltzman announced a few other changes in February to help the Space Force transform for future operations—a move the general compared to converting a merchant marine force to a Navy.

“That shift to an operational phase, where we have to now build and maintain space superiority in order to continue to provide the services that the force has come to count on, is what the real transformation is,” Saltzman said.