Air Force study recommends moving Guard units to Space Force as opposition mounts

The Pentagon's study recommends moving all Guard space units into the Space Force. But state governors, lawmakers and Guard leaders are pushing against it.

The Air Force’s in-depth report to Congress says moving all National Guard space units to the Space Force is the best path forward. But the Air National Guard, governors in all 55 states and territories and a bipartisan group of 85 lawmakers are pushing back against the Pentagon’s plan.

The study that’s been in the works for quite some time examines three possible courses of actions. It lays out the feasibility and advisability of giving the Space Force its own Guard component, leaving things as they currently are and moving Guard space functions and personnel to the Space Force. The study looks into risks, costs and benefits of each course of action.

The overall costs for all options are roughly the same, the study concludes, and the Air Force can execute any course of action if required. The study’s recommendation — transferring all space functions from the Guard into the Space Force.

“Given its small size and lean philosophy the Space has taken in its organizational approach, the burden of a separate Reserve and Guard component — in any form — would detract from the ability of the Space Force to execute its critical mission,” the report, first obtained by Inside Defense, reads.

“The National Guard Bureau is capable of continuing missions with minimal disruptions regardless of the course of action selected. However, they have consistently stated and remain of the opinion that the transfer of covered space functions from the Air National Guard into a new Space National Guard component provides the best option for Airmen performing space missions in the Air National Guard today. The Department of the Air Force, the Department of Defense, and the Administration disagree with this position.”

There are no costs or risks associated with leaving things as they are, the report concludes. But Guardsmen would essentially be disconnected from the culture and training the Space Force provides. 

“They’re effectively orphaned. When you have things like schools that they have to go to — it makes life a lot harder because these folks are in the Air National Guard, but the Space Force is where they’re working,” Russ Read, the National Guard Association of the United States’ legislative affairs manager, told Federal News Network.

If the Defense Department decides to move all space functions out of the Guard and into the Space Force, it risks losing Guardsmen who don’t want to transfer to an active component. But the Space Force can manage these transition risks, the study concludes. 

“In the past two years, the Space Force received the Army and Navy military satellite communication missions, as well as the Army’s missile warning mission, without assurances that trained manpower would transfer with the units. In each case, despite not getting all the associated personnel, the Space Force successfully managed the transition without any loss to the operational mission,” the study states. 

Giving the Space Force its Guard component would limit training and promotion options for Guardsmen if the Guard space units remain the same size. If personnel grows, however, there would be more options available to Guardsmen, according to the study.

In his letter to Sen. Roger Wicker (R- Miss.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee,  Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel Ashish Vazirani said consolidation of space functions would be the best solution.

“This will allow the department to fully leverage this groundbreaking approach to managing a total force,” said Vazirani.

But all state governors, lawmakers, Air National Guard leaders, Guardsmen and advocate groups have strongly come out against the Pentagon’s plan to collapse all space missions into one component as it continues to pursue a legislative proposal to bypass governors’ control over their National Guard units and move all Guard space missions into the Space Force.

In a letter sent on Monday, a bipartisan group of 85 lawmakers argued the legislative proposal is “deeply flawed.”

“To be clear: when individuals sign up for the National Guard, they are serving their country and their community. Congress shouldn’t abandon this model,” the lawmakers wrote. 

Last week, all state governors expressed opposition to the plan. Governors from 48 states and five territories sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin calling for the immediate discontinuation of the proposed legislation.

Republicans Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas didn’t sign onto the letter but have since sent separate letters expressing opposition to the plan.

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