The Space National Guard already exists — Congress should recognize it

Associated Press

The U.S. Space Force was established in large part to consolidate and align military space warfighting organizations and assets under one chain of command to ensure proper service-level focus on the organizing, training and equipping of space-focused forces. Despite this clear direction from the White House and the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), more than 70 percent of America’s space warfighting capabilities fall outside the organizational purview of the Space Force because they reside in the Air National Guard, which reports to the Air Force. 

The resulting misalignment creates dysfunctions spanning authority and budgetary issues to readiness problems. Given aggressive adversary actions in space, combatant commanders rely heavily on Air National Guard space forces. The Department of Defense and interagency bureaucracies cannot continue to stand in the way. Congress must create a Space National Guard.

The personnel, infrastructure and weapon systems for a Space National Guard are already in place, but it lacks formal recognition in law. Since the 1990s, the Air National Guard has served as the Defense Department’s go-to place for experienced, cost-effective and surge-to-war space forces. These individuals come with a depth of experience, thanks to the permanent jobs many hold. Numerous air guard space operators work in commercial firms that design and develop Space Force weapon systems. This translates to robust depth and breadth of experience.

Despite their small size, “space guardsmen” represent a large impact upon the enterprise. They provide nearly three-fourths of the Space Force’s overall warfighting capacity and 20 percent of its manpower. It is inexplicable that the current construct has them disconnected from the active space service’s organize, train and equip plans and processes, given that space guardsmen remain under the Air Force’s chain of command. This invites undue risk that is wholly self-inflicted, akin to the dysfunction of placing the Air National Guard in the Department of the Army or the Army National Guard in the Department of the Navy. Clear, aligned lines of authority must exist to present space forces in a logical and mission-effective fashion. The resourcing, career field management, training and operations of space forces should all come under one roof.

Instead of a streamlined integration of key missions and assets being managed by the Space Force chain of command, this awkward situation has yielded additional bureaucracy to bridge the legal and financial gaps between the Air Force and Space Force. Navigating these areas has negatively impacted readiness, training and even deployments in support of combatant commanders worldwide. While the Space Force and National Guard Bureau have worked to keep the space mission active and moving forward in the Guard, this lack of organizational and fiscal alignment has seriously affected missions such as space electronic warfare, space surveillance and satellite operations.  

The FY 2022 NDAA “kicked the can down the road” on this issue and ordered yet another study — one of many conducted since 2018. The time for action is now. The obvious choice is clear. The Space Force was created to unify U.S. national security space functions under one separate military service. That intent remains especially valid today, given the growing challenges we face on orbit. The Space Force is over two years old, and it is long past time to ensure its guard component is properly aligned. 

Air Force Gen. (ret.) John Hyten, former vice chief of the Joint Staff, and Gen. Jay Raymond, chief of Space Operations, have stated numerous times that the Space Force cannot accomplish its mission without the Space National Guard. It is time to bolster the nation’s defense posture and establish proper lines of organizational authority and force design, as we do with any other military service. Congress should establish the Space National Guard in the next NDAA.

Christopher Stone is the Senior Fellow for Space Studies at the Mitchell Institute’s Spacepower Advantage Center of Excellence in Arlington, Va. He is the former special assistant to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy in the Pentagon.

Tags Air National Guard John Raymond Space warfare United States Space Force

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