SEAL Cmdr. Chris Cassidy is one of the highest-profile members of the Navy's space cadre. He's certainly the farthest away — Cassidy will be on the International Space Station through mid-September after launching from Kazakhstan in March. (Victor Zelentsov / NASA)
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Seeking more space warriors to operate new satellites, the Navy has expanded the number of jobs in the space cadre, an assortment of specially trained engineers, operators and astronauts. And officials have a new, better way of measuring their level of experience, according to a new policy released April 23.
But what exactly is a “space war fighter,” you ask? Think less “Star Wars” and more mission control.
Space cadre members control the Navy’s tactical communications satellites, designed to relay voice and data around the world via ultra high frequency, as well as the Pentagon’s communications satellites. They’re rolling out the Mobile User Objective System, an array that will include four operational satellites an in-orbit spare; the first MUOS craft was launched in February 2012.
Other cadre members include staff officers who advise their commands, such as carrier strike groups, on how to use satellites to gain imagery or intelligence useful for their operations.
New rules unveiled in NAVADMIN 110/13 by Vice Adm. Kendall Card, the deputy chief of naval operations for information dominance, make it easier for detailers to manage the increasing pool of space cadre members. Now, an officer’s education and experience will be identified in four separate levels, with additional qualification designators from novice to those with more than six years of experience.
“What we provided with these AQDs is there’s a way to move up the ranks,” explained Capt. Patrick Owens, the Navy space cadre adviser, in an interview.
These new designators allow detailers to better match personnel from the growing pool of 1,700 cadre personnel to the open billets, officials said.
The cadre is hiring. Satellites are central to missions ranging from intelligence to ballistic-missile defense to communications. The Navy needs more experts capable of using these orbiting assets to enhance fleet operations, such as identifying foreign warships in an area where a carrier strike group is headed.
A recently completed review calls for 367 officer billets, up 15 percent from the previous level, officials said. There are 260 enlisted jobs and 350 for civilians, who mostly specialize in acquisitions.
Not wowed by satellites? The space cadre also includes the Navy’s highest fliers — seven astronauts, all commanders or captains. One of them, Cmdr. Chris Cassidy, a Navy SEAL, is orbiting Earth aboard the International Space Station.
While the requirements to be an astronaut are much higher than those for the space cadre, Owens said these astronauts bring a enormous understanding of space engineering back from their travels. For example, Capt. Suni Williams, a pilot, has spent a total of 322 days in orbit over two missions, the sixth highest of any U.S. astronaut.
Interested officers can contact their detailers to see whether there are any open cadre billets that require little to no experience.
“We are definitely looking for people,” said Lt. Cmdr. Adam DeJesus, who oversees space readiness at Navy Cyber Forces. “Not necessarily looking for ensigns right out of [Officer Candidate School]. We’re looking for people who already have done a tour with a community, understand a warfare area specifically and now can learn how space can benefit that warfare area.”
The cadre includes enlisted sailors, but they aren’t eligible for the space AQDs right now. DeJesus said a group of experts is “looking at that.”