The Biden administration is “strongly opposed” to creating a Space National Guard under the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, reasoning that it “would not deliver new capabilities — it would instead create new government bureaucracy.” Congress, on the other hand, is divided on whether to establish a Space National Guard apart from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units with space missions. Coming on the heels of NASA’s announcement that the Artemis moon landing program is delayed to “no earlier than 2025,” where will Congress land on the issue of creating a new guard?
Should Congress establish a separate Space National Guard?
To rephrase Miles’ Law from political science, where a Space National Guard lands might depend on where you sit. In July 2021, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to simply rename the Air National Guard to the “Air and Space National Guard” under the 2022 NDAA. In contrast, the House Armed Services Committee wants an entirely separate Space National Guard. On Sept. 1 the Committee voted to include a provision for an entirely separate Space National Guard. Section 921 of House Resolution 4350 outlines the requirements for establishing and implementing a Space National Guard, which would require the Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of the National Guard Bureau to implement the Space National Guard no later than 18 months following the Act’s enactment, with annual briefings to Congress for five years. The Act was scheduled for review on the Senate’s legislative calendar on October 18.
Why is the White House opposed?
The Biden administration is concerned that a Space National Guard would be an inefficient use of resources and create government bureaucracy. This is troubling news for the Space Force because it punctures a major artery in Space Force doctrine. This is because supporting a lean service of Space Force guardians with organizational agility is the fifth principle of military spacepower. Space Force doctrine prioritizes maintaining a “lean, mission-focused, digital service,” in addition to seeking a “peaceful, secure, stable, and accessible space domain.”
But what is less well defined and communicated to stakeholders, however, is what does a “lean” Space Force look like? This is achieved by first “empowering small teams and prizing measured risk-taking as opportunities to rapidly learn and adapt” explains the capstone doctrine. The White House remains unconvinced, however, that a Space National Guard would run in tandem with Space Force’s vision for streamlining procedures to promote space capabilities and reduce bureaucracy. To the contrary, the administration said, “Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units with space missions have effectively performed their roles with no adverse effect on DoD’s space mission since the establishment of the Space Force.”
Are there additional concerns?
Yes, according to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, establishing a Space National Guard could cost almost $500 million annually, with estimated one-time costs ranging between $400 million to $900 million to “construct additional facilities (such as armories) and to equip the new units.” Additionally, some analysts suggest that a push for a separate Space National Guard is largely being driven by the National Guard Association and parochial interests of lawmakers who “are home to space operations”, such as Florida, Hawaii, and Colorado.
What is the value of a Space National Guard?
Advocates for a Space National Guard aver that a new organization is “critical” for the United States to maintain its competitive edge in space. “If the National Guard is excluded from the Space Force, we will illogically be shrinking our competitive space rather than expanding it,” reasons Maj. Gen. James Eifert, Florida’s adjutant general. Last spring, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, testified to the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee that establishing a Space National Guard was amongst his “most pressing concerns.” As major spacefaring powers like Russia and China continue to assiduously develop and deploy, counterspace weapons “specifically designed to hold U.S. and allied space capabilities at risk,” the United States must enhance its space situational awareness and fortify space assets for communication, research and development, and military defense capabilities, reasons Army Gen. James Dickinson, commander of Space Command. It is therefore important to recognize that the United States’ space posture exists in a dynamic ecosystem.
Returning to the Space Force’s doctrine, according to the Chief of Space Operations’ Planning Guidance, which outlines Gen. John “Jay” Raymond’s top five priorities for Space Force over the next decade, the very first priority is to “empower a lean and agile service.” This means developing a new field command structure to delegate decision authority and integrate various echelons of command to reduce bureaucracy. Thus, if a Space National Guard is to have a fighting chance of survival in the 2022 NDAA, or future iterations, evidence that it would “empower a lean and agile service” is paramount to rebut these presumptions.
Another recommendation is to apply systems engineering tools to redefine the scope of the problem to Congress, develop criteria to properly screen feasible and non-feasible alternatives, and develop a scoring system to enhance decisionmakers’ ability to assess the best value candidate solution to endorse. The Space Force is already employing model-based systems engineering methods and novel acquisition standards to incubate a digital service in 2021, why not apply these same tools to the Space National Guard issue? Although there are substantial concerns about creating a Space National Guard, applying systems engineering management is one means to help Space National Guard proponents bridge this communication barrier with stakeholders. To protect the flame of innovation for the responsible and peaceful use of space, proper planning ultimately accelerates growth.
Zhanna Malekos Smith, J.D., is a senior associate with the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and an assistant professor in the Department of Systems Engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s) and not that of CSIS, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times senior managing editor Howard Altman, email@example.com.