Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a bill Wednesday that would create a Space National Guard, even as military leaders float the idea of having full-time and part-time Space Force Guardians instead.
The Space National Guard Establishment Act would move Air National Guard members who conduct space missions under the Space Force's command structure. A companion bill by Reps. Jason Crow, D-Colo., and Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., has been introduced in the House.
Currently, there are 14 Air National Guard units with space-related missions and about 2,000 personnel located in California, Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Florida, Colorado, Ohio, New York and Guam. Lawmakers in those locations want to see the units transferred to the Space Force.
"Creating a Space National Guard would boost our military readiness and increase efficiency," Rubio said in a press release. "It would also ensure that the Space Force retains needed talent. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this common-sense bill."
But Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and the Space Force's Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond have publicly backed a plan that would combine the Space Force's active-duty and reserve elements.
They argue that it is more cost-effective and would be a more efficient way to recruit skilled talent from the private sector.
Last month, Kendall approved a proposal to create the full-time and part-time structure; recently, Raymond said that seeing that approved by Congress is one of his top priorities.
"We have overhauled how we recruit, assess, train, develop, promote, employ and take care of our Guardians. ... This is one of the reasons we are seeking the integration of active-duty and reserve forces into a single hybrid component," Raymond told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 3. "This is our number one legislative proposal, and we look forward to working very closely with this committee to implement this bold and transformational approach."
Since the creation of the Space Force in late 2019, there have been several attempts by military leaders to establish a reserve or National Guard element for the newest and smallest military service branch.
Those efforts have ultimately been delayed, sidelined or stymied, as lawmakers grapple with the costs and logistics of creating another element of the National Guard. President Joe Biden's White House has also offered no support for the efforts.
The White House Office of Management and Budget issued a statement last year saying it was "strongly opposed" to any efforts to create a Space Guard component, estimating it would increase costs each year by up to $500 million.
That figure has angered National Guard officials, and some outside observers believe the cost could be much less.
The Adjutants General Association of the United States sent a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee in late March saying that moving those 14 Air Force units under Space Force's command could cost as little as $250,000, with no need to create new facilities.
"Most importantly, there is no plan to advocate for additional space force structure for all states, territories, and the District of Columbia. The proposal we support is the transfer of existing space structure from the Air National Guard to the Space National Guard," the letter stated.
The National Guard Association, which lobbies on behalf of the component in Washington, praised the new bill.
Rubio and Feinstein's legislation is co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rick Scott of Florida, Mike Braun of Indiana, Rob Portman of Ohio, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and John Cornyn of Texas, along with Democratic Sens. Alex Padilla of California, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper of Colorado, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
"It's heartening to see such a broad coalition of senators get behind creating a Space National Guard," retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, the National Guard Association president, said in a press release. "A Space National Guard is the only efficient, inexpensive way to enhance our Space Force. It requires no new personnel, equipment or facilities -- just new uniforms and a few new signs."
Ultimately, Congress will decide which plan to support.
Justin Brockhoff, a spokesman for Kendall, told Military.com last month that the Department of the Air Force will continue to figure out "the appropriate future disposition of current Air National Guard space units in a manner that is efficient, effective, and appropriate for space missions" until then.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.