Future of Space National Guard remains uncertain

Three years in, and there still is no decision on whether to give the Space Force its own Space National Guard.

But Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, is currently working with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman to explore potential options for the future of the Air National Guard service members supporting space missions.

The 2024 defense bill requires the Pentagon to conduct a study on the feasibility and advisability of transferring all Air National Guard space functions to the Space Force.  The study must explore three options —  maintaining the current model under the Air National Guard; transferring all the National Guard space functions to the Space Force; or standing up a new National Guard component of the Space Force. The study is due by March 1.

The study will inform the next round of discussions in Congress on whether a separate Space National Guard is the best way to support the Space Force.

“For me personally, I’ve been very clear in my congressional testimony when asked for my best military advice. I believe the establishment of the Space National Guard is the best use of our folks that have been doing this mission in many cases for over 25 years. But as we look at where we are, no decisions have been made,” Hokanson said during a press briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday.

The White House and much of the Senate are not sold on the idea of a separate Space Guard, and Congress is waiting to see what Air Force, Space Force and National Guard leaders propose. The Biden administration and lawmakers say the move will create unnecessary bureaucracy and add millions of dollars in cost.

But supporters of creating a separate Space Guard argue that creating a Space Guard won’t be as expensive, with some advocates saying that the price tag would only be $250,000, which would cover the cost of changing name tapes on uniforms, signage and unit flags.

Several lawmakers are making another push to establish a Space Guard. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and a bipartisan group of 11 senators reintroduced the Space National Guard Establishment Act of 2024 on Jan. 31. Rubio and the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the bill in 2022 and 2023, but Feinstein’s passing last year required a reintroduction of the legislation again this year.  The 2022 bill was referred to the Armed Services Committee but never reached the Senate floor for a vote.

“Creating a Space National Guard would boost military readiness and efficiency. It would also ensure that the Space Force retains needed talent,” Rubio said in a press release.

The National Guard space units have been performing missions ranging from strategic missile warning to nuclear detection to space domain awareness to command and control and electromagnetic warfare. The units are already doing the work for the Space Force, Hokanson stressed during a congressional hearing last year. A separate Space Guard would allow the space professionals in the Air National Guard to better support the Space Force.

“I think there’s 12 senators that support that, which is the most that have supported previously,” Hokanson said. “My ultimate desire is to make sure that no matter what decision is made, that the mission that the Air National Guard folks are doing in space has got to continue. Space is a very contested domain.”

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