Guardians of a Space National Guard

Following Russia’s direct-ascent anti-satellite weapons test on November 15, which produced more than 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris, along with NASA’s recent announcement that the Artemis moon landing is delayed to no earlier than 2025, will Congress vote to create a Space National Guard?

Congress is divided on whether to establish a Space National Guard apart from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units under the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Biden administration, however, is “strongly opposed” to a Space National Guard, reasoning that it “would not deliver new capabilities—it would instead create new government bureaucracy.”

Q1: So should the Space Force be worried?

A1: The White House’s objections come as worrisome news for the Space Force because they puncture a major artery in Space Force doctrine. How? Supporting a lean service of Space Force “guardians” with organizational agility is the fifth principle of military space power. Space Force doctrine prioritizes maintaining a “lean, mission-focused, digital service,” in addition to seeking a “peaceful, secure, stable, and accessible space domain.” The White House remains unconvinced, however, that a Space National Guard would run in tandem with the 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 [the Department of Defense’s] space mission since the establishment of the Space Force.” What is less well defined and communicated to stakeholders, however, is what a “lean” Space Force looks like.

Q2: What does a lean Space Force look like?  

A2: This is achieved by first “empowering small teams and prizing measured risk-taking as opportunities to rapidly learn and adapt” the capstone doctrine explains. According to the Chief of Space Operations' Planning Guidance, which outlines General John “Jay” Raymond’s top five priorities for the 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 legislation, evidence that it would in fact support this objective is paramount to rebut these presumptions. Unfortunately, without additional evidence it is unclear how a lean Space Force would benefit more from a Space National Guard, as opposed to the Senate’s proposal for an Air and Space National Guard.    

Q3: Are there additional concerns?

A3: Yes. 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 to establish a separate Space National Guard under House Resolution 4350. This proposal 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 its enactment and provide annual briefings to Congress for five years. 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.

 Q4: What is the value of a Space National Guard? 

A4: Where a Space National Guard lands might depend on where you sit. 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 Major General James Eifert, Florida’s adjutant general. Last spring, General Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, testified to the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee that establishing a Space National Guard was among 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,” reasons U.S. Army General James Dickinson, commander of U.S. Space Command, the United States must enhance its space situational awareness and fortify space assets for communication, scientific research, and military defense capabilities. For these reasons, the United States’ space posture exists in a dynamic ecosystem. As such, evidence that creating a Space National Guard would in fact enhance, not hinder, a lean and agile Space Force is necessary to overcome present objections. Proper planning ultimately accelerates growth for the peaceful and strategic use of space.  

Zhanna L. Malekos Smith, JD, is a senior associate (non-resident) 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 those of CSIS, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s). 

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