Master Sgt. Jeffery Health takes an oath during a ceremony for U.S. Air Force airmen transitioning to U.S. Space Force guardian designations, at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 12, 2021. 

Master Sgt. Jeffery Health takes an oath during a ceremony for U.S. Air Force airmen transitioning to U.S. Space Force guardian designations, at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 12, 2021.  AP Photo / Noah Berger

Proposed Space National Guard Gathers Momentum

A space-focused branch of the Guard would aim to give the Space Force “a surge-to-war capability” in times of conflict.

The National Guard will soon deliver recommendations to the defense secretary on how to establish a space-focused component of the part-time volunteer force, an effort the Guard’s top general calls one of his “most pressing concerns.”  

But lawmakers want to know what the new organization will cost, suggesting they may have some of the same concerns about soaring costs and bureaucracy that hounded the Space Force when it was established in December 2019

Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard, said he’s “fairly close” to briefing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on recommendations to establish a Space National Guard, and that he has already briefed Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks. 

He’s expecting to meet with acting Air Force Secretary John Roth on Wednesday to prepare for the meeting with Austin, but he said the Air Force secretary and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond have already agreed on the plan to establish a space-specific guard in addition to a combination active and reserve component.

“If they have invested their career in the space mission, will there still be a home for them in the Space National Guard?” Hokanson asked, before saying that establishing a Space National Guard is “the right thing to do.” 

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who chairs the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, told Hokanson she’ll submit follow-up questions on the price tag for setting up both a space reserve and guard, as well as what it would actually look like across all 50 states. She also said she would submit questions about how much Air Force infrastructure and facilities could be shared, a concern similar to that of lawmakers when Congress was debating the Space Force.

A Congressional Budget Office report from June 2020 estimated a Space National Guard would cost at least $100 million per year. 

There are now about 2,000 members of the National Guard working on space missions in eight states: California, Florida, Colorado, New York, Ohio, Wyoming, and Arizona, according to a fiscal 2021 fact sheet from the National Guard Association of the United States.  

Space is becoming the latest battlefield for great power competition. China has about 400 operational satellites today, but that number is expected to grow to 1,000 by 2030, Brig. Gen. Richard Zellman, the deputy chief of staff for the strategy, plans, and policy directorate at U.S. Space Command, told Defense One. And Russia has developed multiple space-based weapons, including satellites that can maneuver in orbit to target American assets. 

In response, Congress established the Space Force in December 2019 as the standalone sixth branch of the military. 

But the National Guard has also been pushing to get a piece of the mission in orbit as threats grow.

“There will be a standard to be a space warrior in the…Space Force and I believe that it is important that the space capability currently in the National Guard should move into the Space Force,” former National Guard chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel told Congress in March 2020.

Having a National Guard component of the Space Force would also give the new branch “a surge-to-war capability,” the fact sheet said. 

Some states are charging ahead without Congress. Though lawmakers on Capitol Hill have not authorized the establishment of the space organization, the Colorado General Assembly passed a bill last month that added the Colorado Space National Guard to state statutes, saying Congress is “likely” to create such an office in the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.  

The need for a space guard is mostly about personnel, according to Brian Weeden, the director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to space sustainability. The active-duty military requires troops to either get promoted or leave the service, and to move around a lot, something that doesn’t always mesh well with the highly-technical workforce military space organizations are trying to recruit. 

Having a space guard, where troops have more flexibility, Weeden argues, could help the Defense Department bring talent from the private sector into the military part-time, and help retain those people if they can serve in a job much longer than they could on active duty.