Space Guard 'Among My Most Pressing Concerns,' National Guard Chief Tells Congress

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U.S. Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, speaks
U.S. Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

There is no formal Space Force National Guard, but the chief of the National Guard Bureau wants Congress to know how much the Guard already is contributing to the military's space mission.

"Among my most pressing concerns ... [is] the establishment of a Space National Guard," Gen. Daniel Hokanson told lawmakers on the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense during a hearing on the Guard's budget.

Hokanson underscored the Guard's space-focused role, which includes about 2,000 guardsmen performing space domain operations out of the 441,539-strong force.

"The National Guard is also a trusted space and cyber partner. For 25 years, National Guard space units have provided operational, unit-equipped, surge-to-war capability to protect our nation's vital interests in this contested domain," Hokanson told lawmakers.

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Hokanson stressed to lawmakers that the Guard is a critical element of the military's space mission, highlighting that 11% of the Defense Department's space personnel are guardsmen, and the Guard provides 60% of electronic warfare capabilities.

"In addition, our cyber warriors bring their military and civilian skill sets to bear in support of Cyber Command's global commitments," he said in written testimony.

The National Guard has 14 space units across seven states and a territory: Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, New York, Ohio and Guam.

Hokanson adds that the Guard is "the primary combat reserve force" for the Army and Air Force, and "provides operational capability to the Space Force."

Top brass sought a Space Force National Guard almost immediately after the branch was founded in 2019. The previous Guard chief at last year's budget hearing urged lawmakers to greenlight the Space Guard, saying a reserve force would be a critical force multiplier and formalize what the Guard already does for cyber and space missions.

"I believe that one of the things that is best about [the National Guard] is, we mirror the culture of our parent service," Gen. Joseph Lengyel told lawmakers last year. "So, there is only one standard to be a soldier in the Army. There is only one standard to be an airman in the Air Force. There will be a standard to be a space warrior in the ... Space Force. And I believe that it is important that the space capability currently in the National Guard should move into the Space Force."

The previous National Defense Authorization Act instructed the Defense Department to brief lawmakers on the viability and practicality of a Space Force Reserve or Guard element.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters in February that the study is still pending.

"We'll get that report back, and it will be considered in the next NDAA as we look at the whole operational Space Force," Reed told reporters.

Hokanson's testimony comes after the busiest year in the Guard's history and amid a historic volume of high-profile domestic missions, including response to various protests of police brutality, administration of coronavirus vaccines, response to natural disasters and deployment to the U.S. Capitol after it was assaulted by a pro-Trump mob.

Hokanson noted that the Guard administers 150,000 vaccine shots a day. Yet there have been concerns about the force being strained due an overreliance on the Guard for law enforcement-adjacent missions. Hokanson himself previously suggested the Capitol mission was dragging on.

With the massive volume of domestic missions, the Guard also is continuing to deploy units abroad. The Louisiana Army Guard's 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team is deployed to Iraq; the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team is operating in Ukraine; and troops with the South Dakota Guard are at the horn of Africa, to name a few current overseas missions.

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

Related: National Guard Generals: America Needs a Space Guard

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