Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall speaks to attendees at the 39th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 10, 2024.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall speaks to attendees at the 39th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 10, 2024. Courtesy photo

Do states need a ‘Space Force militia’? Air Force says no

A recent legislative proposal reignited debate over a potential Space National Guard.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado—Top Pentagon officials defended their proposal to move space-focused units from the Air National Guard into the Space Force without the consent of governors, arguing that a Space National Guard doesn’t make sense.

The service in March sent a legislative proposal to Congress that would allow the department to move people into the Space Force from the Guard in seven states, quickly drawing rebuke from Guard supporters.

But the impact of this move is “negligible,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters Wednesday, adding that it’s a “unique situation” and no other services have plans to take in Air National Guard members. 

“We've had much, much more political attention over this issue than it deserves, in my mind. We're talking about a few hundred people. The numbers for any state are less than I think 2% at most of their Guard people, and they're only a handful of states that are affected,” Kendall said at Space Symposium. 

Whether to build a Space National Guard has been a long-standing debate since the creation of the Space Force, with opponents arguing it would cost too much and saying states don’t need military space forces.

“The governors may have a different view, but I don't see a reason why a state needs a Space Force militia,” Kendall said.

Both Kendall and Chief of Space Operations Chance Saltzman pointed to new legislation included in the 2024 defense bill, called the “Space Force Personnel Act,” which gives Guardians more flexibility and allows them to switch between part-time and full-time work. 

“People should look very carefully at this before they make a snap judgment about whether they're comfortable with the change or not,” Kendall said. 

A high percentage of guardsmen would rather leave the Guard than transfer to the Space Force, according to recent reports

Asked about these polls, Kendall said, “I think those people have not seen what their options are yet under part-time Space Force, or full-time Space Force for that matter. And I think that they're going to find a lot of really attractive [things] about it when they actually get a chance to look at what their choices really would be.”

“We're not going to jump off the cliff,” Saltzman said. “We're going to phase this in over time, leverage the people that are there as we slowly start to do it so we can both minimize the risk to mission and minimize the pain associated with whether people want to volunteer to come over or whether they want to stay part of the Guard.”

The recent defense policy bill also requires the Department of the Air Force to conduct a study to look at all the different options for the 14 space-focused units across the National Guard. 

“The worst option, and I think that is what our report is going to show, is a separate new Space Guard for a few hundred people. It doesn't make any sense. It's going to cost to administer. There is not in my mind any expectation that it would grow and it's going to be administratively difficult,” Kendall said. 

The department is sending the report “shortly” to Congress, but he said it will not change the Air Force’s position about a Space National Guard, he said.