EXCLUSIVE: Pentagon will create Space National Guard if Space Force launches

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DENVER – The Space Force will get its own National Guard branch if Congress decides to create the new military service in its 2020 defense policy bill.

The Defense Department will establish the Space National Guard in tandem with the Space Force and will have basic headquarters and staffing set up by the beginning of next year if Congress gives it the green light, Brig. Gen. Patrick Cobb, special assistant to the National Guard Chief for space, told Federal News Network in an exclusive interview.

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“In the second year of existence we will start bringing National Guard units over to the Space National Guard,” Cobb said. “We will bring the Air National Guard units over first and then a year after that the Army National Guard unit that we have here in Colorado. The Air Force Reserve would do the same thing and Army Reserve.”

Cobb said the only model for setting up the Space National Guard, and the Space Force itself, is the establishment of the Air National Guard in 1947.

“We’ve been using a lot of that history,” Cobb said. “We saw how the Air Guard became an entity and the reserve a year after. We’ve been working with the Air Force and their planning team on the Space National Guard.”

Regardless of the Space Force becoming its own branch or being placed within the Air Force, DoD will still establish the Space National Guard.

Maj. Gen. Michael Loh, adjutant general of the Colorado National Guard, told reporters Sunday why the Space Force needs its own National Guard.

“The services are responsible for organizing, training and equipping,” Loh said. “If we have a Space Force, now they are responsible for the organizing, training and equipping of all the professionals who do space missions. If we de-link those two and leave it under the separate service of the Air Force or Air National Guard and not underneath the Space Force, then there are some unintended consequences. Those consequences involve funding, requirements and the regulations that the Space Force would come out with.”

He added that the Guard components maintain the same standards and do the same training as their active components, and therefore need to be completely aligned.

Cobb gave a real-world example as to why there needs to be a Space National Guard set up simultaneously with the Space Force.

“Our concern is if we don’t transfer at the same time something may get lost or broken. A ball may get dropped, not on purpose, but it’s very complex U.S. code. We need to ensure Guardsmen get paid, or their leave stays on the books,” he said. “If there is a software upgrade, but Space Force owns that software upgrade, and we are still sitting in the Air National Guard will we get that upgrade? There’s a lot of those unknowns out there if we aren’t concurrently transferred over with our active duty counterparts.”

Cobb said the plan should not add any extra cost to the defense budget.

“We would realign existing billets to move over to stand up a Space National Guard element, so we would be zero cost,” Cobb said.

There are seven states with 16 National Guard units operating in space. The services and combatant commanders dictate the number of units based on their needs.

Right now the National Guard has missile warning, space operations and space intelligence units.

“What we’ve been working on lately is the growth of our offensive and defensive space control units,” Cobb said. “We currently have a deployment overseas for our space units. California and Florida are two current units that are operational and they’ve been rotating personnel through overseas locations.”

The establishment of a Space Force and Space National Guard is looking likely. Both the House and Senate versions of the 2020 defense authorization bills have some form of a Space Force.

Lawmakers are set to go to conference committee early this fall to settle any differences in their versions of the NDAA.

The defense authorization bill is one of the few bills Congress has reliably passed every year for more than 50 years.

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