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Space National Guard: Why Wait?


Unless Congress intervenes soon, the Pentagon will orphan about 1,200 National Guard airmen from their active-component counterparts.

The airmen are members of Guard space units across seven states and one territory. They operate the only survivable strategic missile warning and nuclear warning capability. They also provide 40% of the Air Force’s deployable space control capabilities.

But they won’t be part of the new U.S. Space Force — at least not for now.

As every active-component Air Force space unit moves to the nation’s newest military service, Guard space units will be left behind. Lawmakers did not include a Space National Guard in the language that established the new service, and the Defense Department is in no rush to recommend creating one.

The utility of a Space National Guard is obvious. It requires no further study.

Pentagon officials want to continue to deliberate, even though they have studied creating a Space Guard for nearly  years. They want to consider every possible option, even though the unmistakable intent of the president and Congress was to move swiftly to counter eroding U.S. dominance in space.

In fact, the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Defense Department to deliver a plan to Congress on the creation of some type of Space reserve. That plan now will reach lawmakers no earlier than next year.

The impact on Guard space units could be significant. Failure to integrate these proven assets into the Space Force risks their readiness, morale and retention. And the longer it takes, the greater the atrophy.

Meanwhile, the new service will have no initial surge capability. It also won’t have direct access to some of the most experienced space airmen, many of whom have added civilian-acquired skills from many years of working full time in the space industry.

Creating a Space Guard would also be largely cost neutral. The unit personnel are already on the military payroll. The equipment and the facilities are in place. Plus, the costs to administer the Space Guard at the state level and the National Guard Bureau could be absorbed by transferring the staff currently supporting these units to the Space Guard.

Senior Pentagon officials know all of this.

“You actually can’t do the space mission without the National Guard,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.

“The National Guard is a perfect partner for the space mission,” he said. “It’s perfect because it’s, in many cases, a stateside mission, a homeland mission, that’s done in one place. You can build very, very good expertise in that one area and have a Guard unit that is focused on a singular mission.”

So why are we waiting to create a Space Guard? The Pentagon bureaucracy often can’t get out of its own way.

Take duty-status reform. Officials have been studying it for 10 years. Admittedly, DSR is very complex. But it is an example how DoD often reacts to change. It studies. Then it studies the studies. Then it studies the studies of the initial studies.

Eventually, hundreds of people become involved. Paralysis by analysis results.

The utility of a Space Guard is obvious. It requires no further study. The Space Force needs the expertise and value of Guard space units at this critical time in its formation as much as the nation requires a service singularly focused on this increasingly contested domain.

If Pentagon officials won’t get out of their own way to recommend the help the Space Force so clearly needs, then Congress must wait no longer and create a Space Guard without DoD input.

The author can be reached via [email protected].