Manchin introduces bipartisan bill to establish Space National Guard

Bipartisan bill challenges administration, which opposes establishing a Space National Guard

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced May 12 that he and a group of senators have introduced legislation to create a National Guard for the U.S. Space Force. The bill would allow members of Army and Air National Guard currently supporting Space Force operations join the Space National Guard.

The bill entitled Space National Guard Establishment Act was co-sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas) .

Similary the legislation was inserted in the House of Representatives last year, but failed to pass the Senate.

When the Space Force was established in 2019 as a separate military service, active-duty space units were moved out of the Air Force and placed into the new Space Force, but no corresponding move was made to create a Space National Guard.

By some estimates, there are about 1,500 Army and Air National Guard members currently supporting space operations in seven US states and Guam. The Biden administration opposes the establishment of a Space National Guard on the grounds that it would add unnecessary cost. The administration has argued that the Space Force’s small size gives the service flexibility to pursue other options.

A legislative proposal Unveiled April 1 by Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall recommended that Instead of having a dedicated reserve force, the US Space Force would have a regular active-duty force with full- and part-time members. The proposal did not recommend establishing a Space National Guard. Kendall told lawmakers that current Army and Air Guard members who support Space Force operations would have the option to join the active Space Force component.

During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee on May 11, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) asked Deputy Chief of Space Operations Gen. David Thompson how the Space Force would handle the possible departure of Guardsmen who are now working in space operations but might leave if there is no Space National Guard to transfer to.

“And to the best of your knowledge, the Department of the Air Force is assuming that those nearly 1,500 Guardsmen would transfer to a combined active duty and reserve component if we took that approach?” Kelly asked.

Thompson said the Space Force “cannot do without the capability and missions that [the Guard units] provide.”

“IIf we don’t actually create a Space National Guard… we have to do that assessment and planning in preparation for moving those forces. We’re doing an evaluation right now,” Thompson said. “We do not assume that any number of Guardsmen will make that transition and that option will certainly be presented to them. If it got to that point, we’re not making any assumptions about whether or not those members would accept or want that transfer.”

The Space Force will need to determine “what will be required to replace those members with members of the Space Force,” he said. “We anticipate that the evaluation will be done in time to support the next budget request.”

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