WASHINGTON — National Guard leaders are openly questioning the Defense Department’s decision to stand up a U.S. Space Force without defining the role the National Guard will play in supporting the new service.
National Guard Bureau officials and adjutants general from five states met with reporters at the Pentagon Feb. 12 to lay out their case that a Space National Guard should be established as soon as possible as a reserve component to the U.S. Space Force.
The debate over how the Guard would support the U.S. Space Force has been simmering in the background since a year ago, when the Pentagon submitted to Congress a proposal to establish a Space Force but did not specify the role of the National Guard.
“We are strongly advocating for a Space National Guard,” said Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, adjutant general of the California National Guard.
Baldwin questioned why the report that the Pentagon submitted to Congress on Feb. 3 on the proposed organizational structure of the U.S. Space Force did not include a plan for the National Guard.
“They had an opportunity a few weeks ago in their first report to Congress,” said Baldwin. After the report came out, “I immediately got calls from my units asking ‘what does this mean for me?’” he said. “What do I tell my folks? We tell them to stay focused on the mission, that this will all work itself out. But of course we know better than that,” he added. “I’m concerned. We expected this to be in the report.”
Some DoD officials privately have cautioned that creating a Space National Guard could open the door to every state to want to have a space guard to fuel economic growth. Now the Pentagon faces a March 19 deadline to submit another report to Congress on how the Guard and Reserves should be integrated in the Space Force.
National Guard forces are controlled by their respective state. They respond to domestic emergencies but also serve as reserve components to the U.S. military services. When Guard forces are called to active duty, troops from the Air National Guard are aligned with the Air Force, and those from the Army National Guard are aligned with the Army. Guard officials said a Space National Guard should be aligned with the Space Force as the parent service responsible to organize, train and equip forces.
Brig. Gen. Torrence Saxe, adjutant general of Alaska’s National Guard, said it is unreasonable to expect Guard members to serve under a service that is not their own. “That would cause confusion,” he said. “Where there’s a space mission there needs to be a Space National Guard.”
The report the Pentagon sent to Congress Feb. 3 said “DoD cannot execute its military space missions today without the Guard and Reserve.” At the same time, the Space Force has the “unique opportunity to consider a clean sheet, twenty-first century approach to human capital management specially designed for the space mission set and the needs and preferences of the current generation.”
Guard officials said at the Feb. 12 news conference that they were puzzled by that statement.
“We think it’s a simple solution and we want to be part of the solution,” said Maj. Gen. James Eifert, adjutant general of Florida’s National Guard. “We’re not big fans of another year-long study examining the same things that we’ve already spent time studying.”
Eifert said it’s fair to allow DoD to do its due diligence. “But you can study something into oblivion and never move forward.”
Criticism that the Guard would burden DoD with bureaucratic overhead comes from people who are “unfamiliar with the realities on the ground,” said Eifert.
Eight states — Alaska, Hawaii, California, Colorado, Florida, New York, Arkansas and Ohio — and Guam have approximately 1,500 personnel who specialize in space operations. Most are from the Air National Guard and a small number are from the Army National Guard.
“We’re not looking to stand up 54 Space National Guards to cover every state and territory,” said Eifert. “We’re looking at some additional overhead in the particular states that participate in the mission.”
Guard units have expertise in space-focused duties such as strategic missile warning, space situational awareness, space control, electronic warfare satellite command and control, satellite communications, space launch, and some support the National Reconnaissance Office.
The adjutants general told reporters that they have gone to their congressional delegations to raise their concerns.
Brig. Gen. Patrick Cobb, deputy director of space operations of the National Guard Bureau, said his office has been working through DoD channels as is required for the bureau. He said he hopes that DoD will put forth a plan to set up a Space National Guard and not wait for Congress to mandate it in legislation.
“Ideally we want a proposal out of DoD,” he said.
Cobb said the Guard recognizes that the Space Force is still being formed and that it does not yet have active-duty members. Thousands of airmen are expected to transfer to the U.S. Space Force over the next year after administrative and legislative issues are sorted out.
“We could do in parallel, have concurrent transfers,” said Cobb. In the Guard, it’s not uncommon for members to resign their commission in the Air National Guard and move to the Army National Guard or vice versa, he said. If there is a Space National Guard, the expectation is that members of the Air and Army guards will transfer, unless Congress provides additional funds to grow the ranks.