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Air Force Delivers Report to Congress on Options for ANG Space Units. What Comes Next?

The Department of the Air Force has delivered a report to Congress recommending the transfer of Air National Guard units to the Space Force, calling it “by far the most advisable” option studied—even as growing opposition from lawmakers threatens to derail the idea.

The report, obtained by Air & Space Forces Magazine, was compiled from analysis and reporting gathered by 30 officers from the National Guard Bureau, Air National Guard, Space Force, Air Force, National Reconnaissance Office, and Office of the Secretary of the Air Force. They used eight factors to compare three scenarios for the space-focused units within the ANG:

  • Remaining in the ANG as they have since the establishment of the Space Force
  • Moving into the Space Force with its new personnel management system for managing part-time and full-time Guardians
  • Establishing a separate Space National Guard

The move to the Space Force was the only one deemed “advisable” by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, the report concluded. However, all three scenarios were deemed “feasible.”

Kendall already acknowledged that recommendation during Congressional testimony last month, and the Air Force has submitted a legislative proposal for the move. But the delivery of the report, mandated in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, represents the most thorough accounting the Air Force has released for its position.

Looking at all three scenarios, the report authors considered eight factors:

  • Readiness
  • Unity of Command
  • Unity of Effort
  • Feasibility
  • Simplicity
  • Timeliness
  • Cost
  • Recruiting/Retention

Status Quo

Leaving ANG units as they are would require “the least amount of disruption, time, and organizational change to implement,” the report states. But it would not address ongoing readiness, unity of command and effort problems that Guard units have been raising for years now. For example, the Air Force and Space Force use different force generation models, requiring extra coordination for handling Guard units. The two branches also have different “Specialty Codes” for managing their career fields, and the Guard units currently fall under Air Force chains of command.

“With policy changes and a formal structure of workarounds, Air National Guardsmen could continue to successfully conduct space missions serving under an ANG chain of command in peacetime,” the report states. “Doing so will necessitate additional Air Force and Space Force coordination, beyond what is currently in place.”

Space Force

Transferring the Guard units into the Space Force would result in “a more complex transition period,” the report notes, with a projected timeline of five years. But it would solve the unity of effort and command problems and be relatively cost-neutral, with some potential savings possibly by reducing bureaucratic overhead. It would also be in line with the Space Force Personnel Management Act, which gave the service the ability to have part-time and full-time Guardians in one single component.

A number of Air National Guardsmen have said they do not want to transfer to the Space Force, either because they want to be available for state-level missions, they see better opportunities for career advancement in the Guard, or they don’t want to have to relocate. One internal survey found at least 70 percent of affected Guardsmen would not make the switch to the Space Force.

However, the report echoes comments Kendall has made that fears about the transition are being overblown.

“Specific options have not been presented at this point … nor have affected members been informed that the transition will be largely seamless and not require fundamentally different service arrangements, unit changes, or relocation,” the report states.

And while there is risk that Guardsmen may still choose not to transfer, the report notes that the Space Force has handled risks like that before as it accepted Army and Navy space missions without the guarantee of all those Soldiers and Sailors transferring with the missions.

Space National Guard

In preparing the report, the department determined that only nine Air National Guard units and roughly 700 personnel perform Space Force functions. Those are both lower numbers than Space National Guard advocates have cited—the report says that Airmen who perform support functions would stay in the ANG no matter what.

Given the small number of personnel, the report presents a notional organization of “cross-state” Deltas under which the Space Guard units would fall. But the size of the Guard presents issues, the report concludes. Such a small force, in support of the smallest military branch, would offer few chances for career advancement and may have trouble advocating for its priorities against the Pentagon’s much larger organizations.

The report does concede that a separate Space Guard could be stood up faster than integrating the units into the Space Force, and that costs would be relatively equal to the status quo. That marks a significant acknowledgement given that a previous Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost at $500 million annually, a figure that critics frequently cited in arguing against a Space Guard.

“If the Space National Guard grows beyond the initial nine units there could be cost increases,” the report states. “Such growth is only speculation at this time.”

Finally, the report authors argue that a Space National Guard is unnecessary given the part-time/full-time construct the Space Force is creating, and that option may actually hurt recruiting for the Guard by forcing them to compete against each other.

What’s Next

Ultimately, the report’s recommendation states that, “Given its small size and the lean philosophy the Space Force has taken in its organizational approach, the burden of a separate Reserve or Guard component—in any form—would detract from the ability of the Space Force to execute its critical mission.”

Yet the report closes with a nod to the debate that continues to rage over these units:

“The National Guard Bureau … have consistently stated and remain of the opinion that the transfer of covered space functions from the ANG into a new Space National Guard component provides the best option for Airmen performing space missions in the ANG today. The Department of the Air Force, the Department of Defense, and the Administration disagree with this position.”

The NGB has gained momentum for its argument in recent weeks. Governors from all 55 states and territories have come out against the Air Force’s legislative proposal, saying it would disregard gubernatorial authorities over Guard units. On May 6, 56 House members and 29 senators sent a letter to the congressional armed services committees also pushing back against the proposal. Even one of the plan’s top backers, House Armed Services Committee chair Rep. Mike Rogers, told that the Air Force needs to sell its skeptics on the plan.

An Air Force spokesperson told Air & Space Forces Magazine that the department has had contact with lawmakers who oppose the legislative proposal. On May 9, the chair and vice chair of the National Governors Association—Govs. Spencer Cox of Utah and Jared Polis of Colorado—released a statement saying they had spoken with Kendall and he did not commit to withdrawing the legislative proposal.

“The continued failure of the Air Force to meaningfully consider gubernatorial authority is very concerning,” they said.

In a letter to Cox obtained by Air & Space Forces Magazine, Kendall wrote that “the proposal does not authorize the transfer of any other units from the National Guard, nor is it meant to set a precedent for the transfer of other units or disregard the critical role of governors.”

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