WASHINGTON – 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, according to a proposal the Department of the Air Force submitted to Congress April 1. 

The proposal approved by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall would establish in law “a new approach to managing reserve component forces by merging what has traditionally been called active-duty forces and reserve forces into a new component that provides full-time and part-time service options to Guardians,” Kendall’s spokesman Lt. Col. Justin Brockhoff, said in a statement to SpaceNews

The proposal does not recommend establishing a Space National Guard, which is in line with the Biden administration’s position. The White House in September said it opposed creating a separate Space National Guard due to concerns about cost and bureaucratic bloat. 

About 1,500 personnel currently in the Air National Guard support space operations. Brockhoff said the Department of the Air Force “continues to coordinate across the executive branch on the appropriate future disposition of current Air National Guard space units in a manner that is efficient, effective and appropriate for space missions.”

Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond told SpaceNews that the “one component” approach proposed by Kendall “will allow us to do innovative things and will give us more flexibility.” 

The proposal was written in response to a congressional mandate to “conduct a study to determine the appropriate role and organization of space-related assets within the reserve components of the armed forces.” The National Defense Authorization Act directed DoD to submit the report by March 31, 2022.

Raymond said that after considerable debate, “one of the innovative things that we came up with was a solution to put the reserve and active duty together in one component, so you don’t have a separate reserve.” 

The Space Force, by virtue of being small with just 8,4000 active-duty guardians, needs to be able to manage forces differently than the larger branches of the military, Raymond said. 

Allowing some guardians to work part-time helps the Space Force recruit and retain specialized people who are also in high demand in the private sector, he said. “We would be giving opportunities for people to go to the commercial industry, to go to NASA, and then come back. Maybe at certain times in their life, if they want to have children they can go part-time for a while and then come back without having to get out of active duty and then go into the reserves.” 

Under the one-component concept – which would require new legislation from Congress – Space Force members could transition between what were formerly regular and reserve component positions without requiring a new appointment. 

With regard to the Space National Guard, Raymond noted that the administration opposes the idea and that the Air National Guard will continue to support the Space Force.

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 rely on those capabilities and that expertise today and we’ll continue to rely on them in the future,” said Raymond.

Previous proposal recommended two components

An earlier version of the proposal submitted April 1 – which was rejected by the White House – had recommended a two-component construct. 

According to the earlier proposal, a copy of which was reviewed by SpaceNews, the Department of the Air Force recommended combining the regular Space Force and Air Force Reserve space professionals into a combined component. And it also recommended a single reserve component comprised of a Space National Guard “generated by the seamless transition of current Air National Guard units performing space missions.”

Congressional sources said the administration’s opposition to the establishment of a Space National Guard has angered lawmakers and leaders from states like Colorado and California where Guard units perform space duties.

The House version of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act would have created a Space National Guard but the Senate sided with the Biden administration and did not support it, so was removed from the final compromise bill. The Space National Guard is likely to once again be considered in the 2023 NDAA. 

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...