COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — After Capt. Robert Franchino attended the basic course for Army space cadre, the military intelligence officer was hooked.
“It lit a fire,” he said. “I was interested and engaged the entire time, and I just knew I wanted to be involved in space operations somehow in the military for the rest of my career.”
Now a space operations officer through U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense School’s Functional Area 40 qualification course, Franchino said he’s excited about the work.
Franchino is one of thousands of students across the Army and Defense Department who enrolled in space-related courses last year through the Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s schoolhouse.
“We’re not going to be the exclusive users of space,” Franchino, 34, said of why he chose the career field. “China and Russia are putting up satellites at a competitive rate to us – that means they are leveling the playing field.”
A larger focus on space is underway after the recent re-activation of U.S. Space Command and the establishment of an independent “Space Force” branch of service.
Officials have also discussed creating a 40-series space career field in the Army to bolster its force. Today, SMDC relies on Soldiers transferring from other military occupational specialties – such as those in signal and missile defense – to fill its ranks.
The command currently stands at nearly 3,000 Soldiers and civilians.
A joint space university is also being planned in the next few years, officials said, that would complement efforts of the Army schoolhouse and Air Force’s National Security Space Institute at nearby Peterson Air Force Base.
“We definitely see growth within the formations,” Daryl Breitbach, the school’s director, said. “The threat continues to grow and the United States, the Department of Defense and specifically, the Army, needs to be able to respond to that increased threat.”
Army space could see another boost since SMDC recently took on additional responsibilities supporting both U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Space Command.
While he does not expect any Soldiers to move, or missions to drastically change as a result, he does foresee some adjustments to take place as mission oversight evolves.
“No matter how the changes go in this transition over the coming months and years,” he said, “we’ll be ready as the headquarters to address whatever the needs are and provide the trained, ready and equipped forces that U.S. Space Command and USSTRATCOM require.”
Since space is still emerging as a warfighting domain, a significant challenge for SMDC is making Soldiers aware of its capabilities.
Many Soldiers, officials said, are unaware they use space-enabled equipment all the time. GPS devices, for instance, enable weapon systems and help Soldiers move around a battlefield. Satellites give units the ability to communicate and to share intelligence.
“They are protecting us, they’re enabling us, they’re providing an operational advantage to the Army,” Breitbach, who is also an Army Reserve FA-40 officer, said. “Soldiers use these capabilities on a daily basis.”
Cheryl Hughes, an instructor for the school’s Army Space Training Division, often travels around the country to enlighten Soldiers on space capabilities that can help them in combat.
Each standard brigade combat team, she noted, already has over 2,500 pieces of space-enabled equipment. She and her team also bring “space kits” and jammers to units and show Soldiers how their equipment can be affected by enemy interference.
“The stronger and more prepared and educated our forces are on the capabilities and also the vulnerabilities of their equipment,” she said, “the better they’ll be at a fight with peer- and near-peer enemies.”
On top of training, the schoolhouse is responsible for creating Army space doctrine.
It recently released an update to Field Manual 3-14 for Army space operations and a new Army Techniques Publication 3-27.3 for Army ground-based midcourse defense operations.
Officials also review other warfighting publications across the DOD to ensure Army space assets and issues are addressed, Breitbach said.
At the center of many of these efforts is the Army’s new concept of multi-domain operations.
Space assets are now being embraced in the Multi-Domain Task Force, an experimental unit that some senior leaders see as the future of Army formations. Built around a fires brigade, the unit includes an element for I2CEWS: intelligence, information operations, cyber, electronic warfare and space.
Other innovative ways to compete in the space domain will likely be needed in the near future as technology continues to grow in leaps and bounds, Franchino said.
For the captain and other new members of the space cadre, this could mean a very different battlefield with space assets playing a more significant role.
“It’s an important part of how we fight wars and it’s also currently held at risk,” he said. “It’s something we’re going to have to continue to exploit in new and creative ways to make sure that we do maintain the strategic advantage over our adversaries.”