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The debate over a space force has been in the public eye for quite some time now, but not much mention has been made of how the Defense Department wants to handle reserve and guard components.
That changed today, as Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice said his preference, and the preference of the DoD task force in charge of building the space force, would prefer a National Guard component to the new military service if Congress decides to establish a space force.
The Space National Guard would look different from the traditional guard, however.
“Right now I have roughly 1,500 people who are operating in space, direct space operations in the Air National Guard,” Rice told members of the Air Force Association during a speech in Washington on Tuesday. “They come in seven states. Establishing a separate service for space is a bureaucratic exercise. Is it good or bad? That’s not my decision. My job is to make sure it works. How would I present the operational piece and the bureaucracy for a new space force? I would do it from those seven states. I would not do 54 states and territories of Space National Guard.”
The states with National Guard space operations are Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, New York, Arkansas and Ohio.
That is about to change, though. Rice said the Air National Guard is setting up two new space squadrons in two new states.
“We are looking at standing up more capability for space control squadrons in the Pacific,” Rice told reporters after his speech. “We are under review on where we are going to do that and how we are looking at that. The timeline is within the next month, two new squadrons in two new states.”
Rice said there is no decision yet on which states would get the squadrons.
He added that DoD’s internal council for space is onboard with the idea of a Space National Guard, but it probably wouldn’t be created until later on down the road.
“They are minimizing all the differences that might come forward with establishing a space force to make it straight forward and make the bureaucratic layer as small as possible,” Rice said. “In doing so, they said ‘Let’s establish the active forces now and then next year let’s look at how we can add different layers of complexity.’ They have come out fully from the secretary of the Air Force on up to say ‘We are all in’ on having a reserve and guard piece.”
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told Congress last month that she wasn’t sure how a space force could operate without a reserve component.
Rice said the overall mission of the current National Guard space forces would not differ if they were aligned with the space force.
“I do not see them and the mission that they do changing at all,” Rice told reporters. “One of the things that we are trying to bring to the table is — how do you balance a mission or an operation that’s completely full time all the time, watching what’s happening in space? It’s not really suited for the guard because the guard’s forte is this mix between 30% full time and 60%, 70% part time. That part time piece is a very effective way to bring someone in and use them as a part time employee. At the same time we bring in the expertise and don’t have to compete with industry.”
The space force still has a long road ahead of it. It needs to be approved by Congress and it needs to be funded by appropriators.
The House Appropriations Committee approved its defense bill, which funds DoD, and it does not have money for the creation of a space force. Instead, it gives DoD $15 million to study and refine the establishment of the force. It also gives $70 million to U.S. Space Command. It rejects DoD’s $72.4 million request for space force headquarters staff.
The Senate Appropriations Committee and both Armed Services Committees still need to release their bills before all of the options are on the table this year for the space force.