Updated Feb. 9 with new information on the number of Air Guard units supporting the Space Force

WASHINGTON — The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, is in discussions with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall to examine potential options concerning the future of approximately 1,000 members of the Air National Guard who support Space Force operations  in seven states.

Hokanson told reporters Feb. 8 that these options will inform the next round of congressional debate over whether the Space Force should have its own force of part-time troops to back up the new service, akin to the structure of the Air and Army National Guard.

The 2024 defense authorization bill directs the secretary of defense to submit a study to congressional committees in March laying out options.

The Biden administration opposes the establishment of a Space National Guard due to the cost, instead offering to shift those Guard space units into the active-duty Space Force. Guard advocates on Capitol Hill made several unsuccessful attempts in recent years to get Congress to pass legislation to establish a Space National Guard, hence the new study to examine all options yet again.

“I’ve been very clear in my congressional testimony when asked for my best military advice, I believe the establishment of a Space National Guard is the best use of our folks that have been doing this mission in many cases for over 25 years,” Hokanson said at a Pentagon news conference. 

In the study due in March, Hokanson and Kendall have to look at the pros and cons of transferring all space functions of the National Guard to the Space Force. They have to analyze three potential paths: Maintaining the current model under the Air National Guard, transferring National Guard space functions to the Space Force, and establishing a new National Guard component of the Space Force.

Senate bill reintroduced

Proponents of the Space National Guard will make another push in the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and a bipartisan group of 11 senators on Jan. 31  reintroduced the Space National Guard Establishment Act of 2024. Rubio and the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the bill in 2022 and 2023. Rubio reintroduced the legislation with Sen. Laphonza Butler, who was appointed to serve out Feinstein’s remaining term, as a co-sponsor. 

A spokesperson for the Department of the Air Force said Feb. 9 in a statement that 702 space professionals, rather than 1,000, would be impacted by a reorganization.

The National Guard Bureau said there are 14 units currently in the Air Guard that support space operations such as satellite communications and missile warning, and electronic warfare systems. The Department of the Air Force said there are actually 11 units that support space operations. The other three are support squadrons with no space-related duties so they would not transfer to either the active-duty Space Force or to a Space National Guard.

Hokanson said he could predict what happens next. “No decisions have been made,” he said at the Pentagon news conference.

“No matter what decision is made, the mission that the Air National Guard folks are doing in space has got to continue,” he said. “Space is a very contested domain. Our nation needs every single capability we have.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...