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The Defense Department was close to proposing a Space National Guard as a Space Force component until last fall, when the OMB unexpectedly announced opposition to the idea. 

The OMB position was based on cost, but the agency’s calculations could prove costly to the nation, retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, NGAUS president, told Biden in a June 7 letter.

“The OMB incorrectly presumed that every state would stand up Space National Guard units, which greatly inflated its cost projections,” Robinson wrote. “In fact, a Space National Guard at its inception would include only 1,000 space professionals in 14 [Air National Guard] units across eight states and territories.

“The start-up cost, according to the Pentagon, would be approximately $250,000 — the price to change signs and uniform name tapes,” he explained. “The personnel are already on the payroll and the equipment and facilities are in place. A Space National Guard could grow in the future, but only to meet requirements specified by the Space Force.”

Creating a Space National Guard is a NGAUS legislative priority.

Congress has the final say, and lawmakers are currently deliberating the matter with legislation in the House and Senate.

But lingering OMB opposition hangs over discussions, often preventing Pentagon officials from offering candid assessments.  

Robinson said the relatively tiny investment in a Space National Guard now would prevent America from paying a far greater price later.

“The more damaging costs are those our nation will incur if, as the OMB directed, space missions currently performed by the Air National Guard are transferred to a single component Space Force,” he wrote. “Some of these units have unique missions, such as the nation’s only survivable and endurable missile warning and nuclear detection system. These units will have to be rebuilt completely from scratch, which will take several years and could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. In the interim, the nation will go without some critical capabilities.” 

Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, the Space Force chief, has repeatedly said the U.S. cannot accomplish military space missions without Guard space units.

The challenge is these space units currently align with the Air Force, which no longer performs space operations. This creates resourcing issues plus administrative and operational control problems. 

Should space units be removed from the Air National Guard, as the OMB directs, the nation will not only lose some of its most talented and experienced space professionals in uniform, but also much of its ability to tap civilian-acquired skills in the future, Robinson said.

“As a member of a National Guard family,” he wrote, “you know better than most that the National Guard is a vehicle enabling professionals outside the active-component military to serve their country in uniform part time and when our nation needs them most. And as you also know, the National Guard connects America to its military like no other component of the Armed Forces.”

Some governors will also lose domestic-response capabilities, Robinson wrote.

In recent years, Air National Guard space units have provided critical eyes in the sky during floods and wildfires.

–    By John Goheen