Space National Guard: The Galactic Tug-of-War in Washington

The escalating political tussle over establishing a U.S. Space National Guard is reaching new heights as bipartisan legislation makes its way through the House and Senate for the third year in a row. The stakes are high, and with the White House opposing the proposed legislation, the future of the Space National Guard is as unclear as ever.

The 233rd Space Group at Greeley Air National Guard Station
c: U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Amanda Geiger

This year’s legislative push, spearheaded by lawmakers from Colorado, California, and Florida, has been met with firm opposition from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The OMB maintains that a Space National Guard would introduce unnecessary bureaucracy and additional costs into the system.

A new twist in the tale emerged when House members from Colorado, Jason Crow (D) and Doug Lamborn (R), introduced a revamped version of the Space National Guard bill earlier this month. The bill proposes establishing space units in only seven states and Guam, thus minimizing costs and disruption.

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“We don’t think that the Space National Guard comes with a big price tag. So this is an attempt to prove that,” said Lamborn, responding to OMB’s cost concerns.

Contrarily, a 2020 report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that establishing a Space National Guard could cost anywhere between $100 million and $900 million, assuming every U.S. state and territory established its own space guard units. This estimate included the costs of new buildings and a significant staff increase at the National Guard Bureau.

Advocates for the Guard, however, view these estimates as inaccurate and based on false assumptions. They emphasize that no plans exist to expand beyond the seven states — Colorado, California, Hawaii, Alaska, New York, Ohio, Florida — and Guam. Expansion in any other state would require separate Congressional authorization. Furthermore, they underline that the Guard has not requested any new buildings.

While the political struggle is ongoing, the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Air National Guard’s space units is taking its toll. Col. Michael Bruno, chief of the Colorado National Guard Joint Staff, shared that the uncertainty has undermined morale and recruiting.

“Things can’t continue down this path,” said Bruno. “There’s going to be a breaking point sooner or later.”

The U.S. Space Force, established in 2019, was caught in the crossfire. It has yet to establish a stance on the issue, as alternatives, such as consolidating active duty and reserve components and allowing some members to work part-time, are also on the table.

The roughly 1,000 members of the Air National Guard performing space operations duties are caught in limbo. They support space missions but technically fall under the Air Force, which is no longer in charge of space missions.

Guard officials argue that reassigning these units to the Space National Guard would cost no more than $250,000, starkly contrasting the CBO’s estimate. They also warn of the potential cost and time required to train new people for the guardsmen’s current duties should their units be deactivated.

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The uncertainty surrounding the Space National Guard’s future also has potential implications at the state level. If the space units are not moved to the Space National Guard, the Air Force will likely convert those jobs to air-focused positions, which could impact state-level operations and support.

With the political fight escalating and the clock ticking, the future of the Space National Guard remains uncertain. As lawmakers, military officials, and the White House grapple over the issue, the fate of those currently performing space operations hangs in the balance.

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