Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of the U.S. Space Force, testifies March 4, 2020, in front of the House Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee. Credit: HAC

WASHINGTON — U.S. Space Force leaders were asked by lawmakers this week to explain why they have taken no action to establish a Space National Guard as a reserve component of the newest branch of the armed forces.

Their answer, in so many words, is that they’re just following the law.

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act on Dec. 20 created the U.S. Space Force but did not direct the establishment of a Space National Guard. The law does require the Pentagon to submit a report this month with recommendation on how reserve components would support the U.S. Space Force.

Space Force officials said they value the contributions of the National Guard and reserves but they are contemplating a range of options besides establishing a Space National Guard.

“We have been directed by law to do a review of this, and so we are going to follow the law,” Gen. John Raymond, the chief of space operations of the U.S. Space Force, told the House Armed Services Committee. “We have an opportunity to look at how we would we do this,” he said. “Are there more efficient ways to do this for a service that is going to be about 16,000 people that is custom built for this domain?”

In the meantime, the Guard and Reserve will continue to do what they’re doing today, said Raymond.

The same point was made by the vice commander of the U.S. Space Force Lt. Gen. David Thompson during a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee.

“We’re gonna take a clean sheet 21st century look at the relationship with these components and see if changes are warranted,” he said.

Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) told Thompson that he was frustrated with the process and wished DoD had stood up the space guard upfront.

But that would have been inconsistent with what the law said, Thompson noted. “What I would suggest is that it’s probably harder to create a guard and then try to uncreate a guard than it is to do a study and then later say the proper answer is a guard or not a guard.”

The uncertainty over the role of the guard has caused a political dust-up between the National Guard Bureau and the Defense Department.

During a separate hearing of the defense appropriations subcommittee, Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said the issue should not be up for debate: If there is a Space Force, there should be a Space National Guard. Space units now serving under the Air National Guard and Army National should be aligned with the Space Force, Lengyel said. “We mirror the culture of our parent service.”

There are about 1,200 airmen and soldiers in space units in seven states and the territory of Guam.

Lengyel said there is a misconception that a space guard would create bureaucratic bloat. “As I talk about space I’m trying to dispel myths about what we are trying to do. Some people think we are trying to create something that is going to be in every state and territory because we have air and army units in all 54,” he said. “There is no proposal from anybody to do that.”

Lengyel said Congress should establish a Space National Guard in law so that members of the Space Force can also be part of the space guard of their state. “There would be a component created such that the space capability that currently resides in the Air National Guard would move over and be part of now the Space Force.”

He insisted that the National Guard Bureau does not need a bigger staff to manage space. “No states need any more generals to manage this in the states,” he said. “They are paid for, they have the equipment.”

A National Guard spokesperson told SpaceNews that 2020 funding for National Guard space operations is $71 million for 1,100 personnel assigned to Air National Guard units and $5 million for 152 personnel from the Army National Guard.

“If a Space National Guard was established, the current space functions would transfer over to the new organization as a zero sum, cost neutral action,” the spokesperson said.

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...