In a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, it was revealed that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directed that the space missions currently existing in the Air National Guard be transferred into a “single component” U.S. Space Force instead of in a Space National Guard. This direction was delivered to the Defense Department in spite of multiple studies conducted and approved by the Department of the Air Force that concluded that the most effective and efficient reserve component solution for the U.S. Space Force is a Space National Guard.
These reports identify the value that the Air National Guard currently provides to the nascent Space Force, and that those units that provide space capabilities should accordingly be transitioned to a Space National Guard. However, these reports were never delivered to Congress despite being directed by two separate National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAAs). OMB apparently blocked the Congressionally directed study results from being delivered to the Congress because they do not support the OMB position.
The OMB position is based on a cost analysis that presumed every state would stand up a Space Guard organization. They posit that moving all of the space mission force structure out of the Air National Guard and into a “single component” Space Force, would be less costly and more efficient. However, simply moving the space capabilities resident in the Air National Guard units that have them into a Space Guard component would be significantly less costly, more efficient, and immediately effective with no loss of warfighting capabilities or capacity that would occur if applying the OMB model.
The personnel, infrastructure, and weapon systems for a Space National Guard already exist within the Air National Guard and are firmly established in communities across seven States, and one U.S. territory. These potential future Space National Guard forces would represent 10 percent of the Space Force’s uniformed personnel. They deliver approximately 60 percent of the Department of the Air Force’s overall expeditionary space electromagnetic warfighting capacity, operate the Nation’s only survivable and endurable missile warning and nuclear detection weapon system, operate 50 percent of the Nation’s protected nuclear command, control and communications satellite constellation while delivering many other vital military space needs.
The challenge is that these space units are currently aligned to the Air Force which no longer performs space operations. The organizational challenge is obvious. Unity of command is a key tenet of American military power. Personnel conducting space missions that fall under the authority of the Space Force, are currently assigned to the Air National Guard. This creates the unwieldy situation where they serve two masters and as a result have blurred lines of both administrative and operational control.
Since the 1990s, the Air National Guard has served as the Defense Department’s go-to place for cost-effective, unit equipped surge to war space forces. These space forces currently in the Air National Guard come with strong experience and ties to engineering, information technology, and the aerospace industry. When the space mission resided inside the Air Force, they were instrumental in improving space warfighting tactics, techniques, and procedures across the military space enterprise, serving alongside their active-duty counterparts as a totally integrated space capability. This connection to industry remains a force multiplier that delivers on the Space Force intent of building stronger partnerships with the aerospace industry. Accordingly, as the Department of the Air Force studies have rightly concluded, the Space National Guard is the right solution to deliver on this intent.
The studies within the Department of the Air Force have concluded that the cost for absorbing the space forces currently in the Air National Guard into a single component organizational construct would be significant. Current estimates indicate the cost for the OMB prefered transfer is over $650M, a 7-10 year capability and experience gap for loss of ready and trained space warfighters, and a need for the Space Force to petition Congress to add an additional 1000 personnel to their end-strength to replace the men and women currently serving in the Air National Guard space squadrons.
Moreover, any action to absorb Air National Guard force structure would deliver an immediate cost to the Air Force who would have to assume responsibilities for the non-space related tasks that space forces in the Air National Guard currently, and would continue to provide, such as security force protection to U.S. nuclear weapon systems. Finally, it would require additional costs to the Space Force for military construction, as most bases where the current Air National Guard space missions reside, are owned by the Guard, not the Space Force.
Air Force General John Hyten (Ret.), former vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and Air Force Space Command commander, and General Jay Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, have stated numerous times that the Space Force cannot accomplish its mission without the space forces currently in the Air National Guard.
It is time to take action to do what should have been done at the stand-up of the Space Force—transfer the space forces in the Air National Guard into a Space National Guard. Congress should pass into law the bill language recently put forward by Senators Feinstein and Rubio as soon as possible to create a Space National Guard to establish a total space force enterprise parallel to what has worked so well and that is fundamental to the success of the U.S. Air Force.