Space Force Won't Be Forced to Use Navy Ranks, Lawmakers Decide

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Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman displays his insignia during a presentation of the U.S. Space Force flag in the Oval Office.
Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman displays his insignia during a presentation of the United States Space Force flag in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, May 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Lawmakers have ditched a provision that would require U.S. Space Force to use naval ranks for its service members, according to the conference report of the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

The House and Senate Armed Services committees on Thursday released their final version of the defense bill, which gives the U.S. military's newest branch the authority to make their own call on ranks without much congressional oversight, according to the bill text.

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Because the Space Force will accept members from across the other service branches, lawmakers in the bill "strongly encouraged" service leaders to consider "all the military services historic rank structures," before making a decision.

"Once a decision by the Secretary of the Air Force has been made the Secretary will submit the findings and decision to the Committees on Armed Service of the Senate and the House of Representatives detailing the final rank structure of the officer and enlisted force of the Space Force at least 15 days prior to implementation," the text states. The Space Force falls under the Department of the Air Force.

The Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, top enlisted leader of the service, revealed this summer that Space Force had been ready to move ahead with announcing a rank structure -- until lawmakers stepped in.

In July, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, proposed an amendment in the FY2021 NDAA requiring "the same system and rank structure as is used in the Navy," for the Space Force, according to a House summary of the text.

As a result, the Space Force halted announcing its decision.

"We've got to let that law, that legal system play out, and until it plays out, there's really no point, right, moving forward," Towberman said during a Q&A segment during the Air Force Sergeants' virtual symposium in August.

Experts have said a Navy rank system would make sense for Space Force. Responding to the news on Twitter Thursday, some space enthusiasts noted that "Space Admiral just sounds better."

"A good reason to use Navy ranks in the Space Force is to better distinguish [Space Force] personnel from Air Force personnel, kind of like [the Marine Corps] using different ranks than the Navy," Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, said in July following Crenshaw's proposal.

Even William Shatner -- the actor who portrayed Captain James Kirk of the USS Enterprise in the original "Star Trek" series -- backed Crenshaw's idea.

In an Op Ed titled, "What the heck is wrong with you, Space Force?" published in Military Times in August, Shatner said there is historical precedence -- in the entertainment industry, anyway -- for space commanding officers to take naval ranks.

Twitter users pointed Shatner to the NDAA's removal of the language, asking his opinion.

"I'm actually fine with it," Shatner responded Thursday.

"It was their decision to make. Who am I to not accept their decision?"

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: Space Force Was Set to Announce Its New Rank Structure. Then, Congress Stepped In

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