WASHINGTON — National Guard leaders want the Pentagon to create a Space National Guard — and if it doesn’t, Guard officials may work independently with Congress to make it happen, top generals said Wednesday.
The Defense Department is set to submit a report to Congress this March laying out plans for how the Space Force will incorporate Reserve and National Guard forces. Currently, the Office of the Secretary of Defense is studying a range of options, including unique models that would divide the Space Force into full- and part-time positions, or having no reserve component at all, Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, the adjutant general from California, said during a media roundtable with reporters.
However, the Pentagon’s draft legislative proposal — due to be sent to Capitol Hill on Feb. 20 to clarify the Space Force’s organizational structure and include additional authorizations needed by the new service — does not contain language that would establish a Space National Guard, a source with knowledge of the discussions told Defense News.
Brig. Gen. Patrick Cobb, the National Guard Bureau’s deputy director of space operations, said the bureau hopes to find a solution through internal discussions with OSD and the Air Force. However, several adjutant generals have said they are prepared to work through Congress if deliberations in the Pentagon fail.
“We are strongly advocating for a Space National Guard, and that’s being received very well by the members on the Hill,” Baldwin said. “Whether we allow OSD to go through their process to come to the conclusion on their own that we need a Space National Guard, or we leverage Congress and we have Congress put it in the [defense policy bill] and make it happen remains to be seen.
“We’re hopeful that it’s the former and that we don’t have to go to the latter, but we’re looking to do that.”
Unlike the federally controlled active-duty services, the National Guard is also controlled by its respective state government, with adjutant generals appointed by a governor. Because of this unique relationship, as well as the economic benefits associated with a Guard presence, Congress tends to be extremely protective of policy and funding that impacts the National Guard.
While Baldwin acknowledged that the OSD is doing its “due diligence” by evaluating all options, other National Guard leaders said they worry that the department may be overlooking the most efficient and simple solution.
“Personally, I don’t see how we have a Space Force without a Space Guard. Because the organize, train and equip is going to come from that Space Force side,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Loh, the adjutant general of the Colorado National Guard. “Otherwise you’re delinking the parent service with those forces that are supporting it.”
“We’re a proven model,” said Maj. Gen. James Eifert, adjutant general for Florida. “We’re not big fans of another yearlong study to examine the same things that we’ve already spent some time studying.”
The National Guard has about 1,500 space personnel: 1,100 in the Air National Guard and 400 in the Army National Guard. Those space forces and missions are concentrated in eight states — Colorado, California, Alaska, Hawaii, Florida, New York, Ohio and Arkansas — as well as the territory of Guam.
Some critics of creating a Guard component are worried that it would expose the Space Force to a sharp budgetary increase, as additional states would potentially look to establish additional branches of the Space National Guard in the hopes of boosting the local economy.
But officials said that would not be allowed to happen.
“We’re not looking to stand up 54 Space National Guards to cover every state and territory. We really only see there being some additional overhead in the particular space states that participate in the mission, so the concern that this would be creating this huge bureaucratic overhead is really not what we envision as how it would be operated,” Eifert said.
Cobb added that there will be no growth at the Guard bureau or within the Joint Force Headquarters as a result of the creation of the Space National Guard, and that any manpower gaps can be filled by transferring existing billets.
“There will be no cost to this [at the headquarters level], and even at the states, we’ll look to flip certain billets at Joint Force Headquarters over to space national guardsmen,” he said.
Officials pointed to several benefits of creating a Space National Guard. For one, it would eliminate confusion over who is in charge of space forces currently in the National Guard. Under the current construct, Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond would not be able to command space operators in the Army and air national guards without the permission of the Army and Air Force.
“You would have, for example, in a certain unit someone who is a completely separate service. The administrative control, the operational control, I think that would cause some confusion. It has to match active duty,” said Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, the adjutant general of Alaska.
It would also ensure a continuation of culture between the Space Force and its reserve forces, he said.
In January, Vice Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten spoke favorably about the role the National Guard could have with the Space Force.
"The National Guard is a perfect partner for the space mission — much more perfect than many other missions that we have the Guard do,” he said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“It’s perfect because it’s, in many cases, a stateside mission, a homeland mission. It’s done in one place,” Hyten said. "You can build very, very good expertise in that one area and have a Guard unit that is focused on a singular mission.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.