Manchin introduces bipartisan bill to establish Space National Guard

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The bipartisan bill challenges the administration, which opposes the establishment of a Space National Guard

WASHINGTON — Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) on May 12 announced he and a group of senators have introduced legislation to create a National Guard for the U.S. Space Force. The bill would allow Army and Air National Guard members currently supporting Space Force operations to join the Space National Guard. 

The bill titled Space National Guard Establishment Act was co-sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Similar legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives last year but did not pass the Senate. 

When the Space Force was established in 2019 as an independent military service, active-duty space units were moved out of the Air Force and placed in the new Space Force, but no corresponding move was made to create a Space National Guard. 

There are by some estimates about 1,500 members of the Air and Army National Guard currently supporting space operations in seven U.S. states and in Guam. The Biden administration opposes the establishment of a Space National Guard on grounds that it would add unnecessary costs. The administration has argued that the small size of the Space Force gives the service flexibility to pursue other options. 

A legislative proposal submitted April 1 by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall recommended that instead of having a dedicated reserve force, the U.S. Space Force would have a regular active-duty force with full-time and part-time members. The proposal did not recommend establishing a Space National Guard. Kendall told lawmakers that the current Air and Army Guard members who support Space Force operations would be given the option of joining the Space Force active component. 

During a Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee hearing May 11, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) asked Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David Thompson how the Space Force would handle the possible departure of guardsmen who are now working on space operations but might leave if there is no Space National Guard for them to transfer into. 

“And to your knowledge is the Department of the Air Force assuming that those nearly 1,500 guardsmen would transfer into a combined active duty and reserve component if we did take that approach?” Kelly asked. 

Thompson said the Space Force “cannot do without the capability and missions that they [the Guard units] provide.”

“If in fact we do not create a Space National Guard … we do have to do that assessment and planning in preparation to move those forces. We are doing an assessment right now,” Thompson said. “We do not make the assumption that any number of Guard members will make that transition and that option would certainly be presented to them. If it came to that point, we are making no assumptions about whether those members would accept or desire that transfer or not.”

The Space Force will need to determine “what would be required to replace those members by Space Force members,” he said. “We anticipate that the assessment will be done in time to support the next budget request.”