The Biden administration’s reluctance to openly discuss the merits of creating a Space National Guard hurts efforts to protect America's space interests, a former National Guard Bureau chief says.
“In my opinion, the administration's ‘gag order’ imposed on the [Defense Department] to not discuss or support the establishment of a Space National Guard is not in the best interest of the United States nor the Space Force," retired Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel told a media roundtable Friday.
“The Department of Defense has studied the integration of air reserve components into the Space Force since October of 2019, of which I was a part of those studies,” added Lengyel, the NGB chief during the service's establishment that year.
“[DoD] has concluded more than once since then that a two-component construct, including a Space National Guard, is the most efficient design."
Lengyel noted awareness of multiple recording requirements, questions for the record and requests for information from Congress to the Department of the Air Force regarding the Space Guard.
“And to my knowledge, none of those answers have made it back to Congress because they were held up either by the Office of the Secretary of Defense or by the Office of Management and Budget, as they differed from the administration position, which does not support the creation of a Space National Guard,” he concluded.
While the Air Force and Air Guard share the same birthdate in 1947, Air Guard units conducting space missions didn't enter the Space Force upon the service's start in 2019.
Brig. Gen. Laura L. Clellan, Colorado's adjutant general, noted 60% of the Space Force’s space electromagnetic warfare capability resides in the Air National Guard.
"These units are easily accessible, and they rapidly surge highly experienced, equipped forces to meet national security priorities across the homeland and overseas," she said.
"Space Force cannot execute missions today without this operational capability,” Clellan added.
Space Force critics in Congress and the Biden administration have cited a 2020 Congressional Budget Office study claiming that establishing a Space Guard would be “up to $500 million annually."
Clellan and Lengyel contend the estimate centers on wildly inflated personnel costs and bureaucratic layers.
Per the National Guard Bureau, a Space Guard would cover roughly 1,000 personnel in 14 units across seven states and one territory who are already equipped and on payroll.
The transition would cost approximately $250,000 in new signs and uniform name tapes, the NGB adds.
This Space Guard would only grow to meet the Space Force's new mission assignments.
Clellan predicted the cost of replacing eliminated Air Guard space units would be much higher.
Recent DoD analysis determined it would take the Space Force at least seven to 10 years to rebuild its existing capability, she said.
The DoD estimated one-time costs as high as $644 million and annual costs of $100 million, Clellan continued.
She argued the DoD analysis understates the cost as it doesn't consider the price of re-missioning current Air Guard space units to new Air Force missions.
Lengyel adds building a Space Force large enough to compete with China or Russia would be unaffordable in peacetime without reserve units and reserve capacity.
“Bottom line — the establishment of a Space National Guard, as the reserve component of the Space Force, remains the most cost-effective and efficient option,” Clellan said.
The Senate opposed including the Space Guard in the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.
The 2023 NDAA passed in the House includes language creating a Space National Guard, but the version approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee doesn't.
Most Air Guard space units have operated for more than 20 years.
While potentially “orphaned” from active-component space units without a Space Guard, they continue deploying and supporting U.S. Space Command worldwide.
Even harder to replace, Lengyel suggested, would be the assets Guardsmen provide, including “invaluable and unique reach into local communities, connection to industry, as well as a link to the Strategic Partnership Program."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced a standalone Senate Measure, the Space National Guard Establishment Act (S. 4179), which could be introduced as an amendment to forthcoming legislation.
“It comes down to this: a brain drain in the space arena will have detrimental effects on our national security and our states’ readiness, and creating a Space National Guard is the best, most cost-efficient way to prevent that from happening," the senators wrote in July.
"Congress can’t afford to look the other way on this," the lawmakers added. "America’s future depends on it."
— By Jennifer Hickey