U.S. Military Forces in FY 2022: Space, SOF, Civilians, and Contractors

This paper is part of U.S. Military Forces in FY 2022. Military forces include the Space Force (fully established but still defining itself), Special Operations Forces (shifting their strategic focus), Department of Defense (DOD) civilians (still growing because of linkage to readiness), and contractors (a permanent element of force structure despite some criticism).

 Key Takeaways

  • U.S. Space Force
    • Major elements of the U.S. Space Force (USSF), such as a service headquarters, appropriations accounts, training and educational commands, operational headquarters, and systems command, have been established. The shape of the acquisition organization and related acquisition processes are major unresolved questions.

    • Personnel and organizations continue to transfer to the new service, though there may be controversy about remaining transfers as the Army and Navy seek to retain some space capabilities.

    • Major space issues include creation of a guard and reserve component, the balance of offensive and defensive capabilities, international agreements on “responsible” behavior, and the balance between commercial and military capabilities.

    • The USSF’s small size will require heavy reliance on other services, particularly the Air Force, for support functions as well as a different approach to personnel management.
  • Special Operations Forces
    • Special Operations Forces (SOF) continues its gradual expansion and shifts focus away from counterinsurgency toward great power conflict.

    • Nevertheless, the strategic shift raises questions about SOF’s long-term size.

    • SOF has (so far) successfully transitioned its funding away from heavy dependence on war funding accounts.

    • Institutional arrangements shifted briefly to a status like a military service, then back, but the debate continues.

    • A broad set of actions to counter recent instances of ethical misconduct by its personnel seems to be having a positive effect.
  • Department of Defense Civilians
    • The number of DOD civilians rises slightly in FY 2022, reflecting the civilian workforce’s contribution to readiness and lethality.

    • However, civilians are often seen as overhead and targeted for reduction in management reform efforts. The Biden administration’s position here is not yet clear.
  • Contractors
    • Contractors have become a permanent part of the federal workforce but remain controversial due to enduring questions about cost and what contractors should or should not do.

    • Operational contractors continue to play a vital role in U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), though reduced with the end of operations in Afghanistan. DOD’s ongoing strategy review is unlikely to recommend more use of contractors. However, that could be the effect if DOD cuts troop numbers without reducing operational requirements.

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