States Don't Need 'Space Force Militia': Air Force Secretary Defends Move to Bypass Governors

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall testifies
Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee on the fiscal year 2025 budget requests for the Department of the Air Force and Space Force, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., April 9, 2024. (U.S. Air Force photo by Andy Morataya)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado -- Department of the Air Force leaders are fiercely defending a legislative proposal to bypass state governors in order to move certain Air National Guard units into the active-duty Space Force,

In response to a question during a press conference at the Space Symposium in Colorado on Wednesday, both Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Gen. Chance Saltzman, the Space Force's chief of space operations, said the impact to states would be minimal.

"The impact is really, I think, negligible. Governors may have a different view, but I don't see a reason why a state needs a Space Force militia," Kendall said. "The reason these units exist in the states is kind of an artifact of history, somewhat. I'd really like to get this resolved."

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Last week, reported that Air Force officials had submitted a draft legislative proposal to Congress titled "Transfer to the Space Force of covered space functions of the Air National Guard of the United States" that would change the status of such operations "from a unit of the Air National Guard of the United States to a unit of the United States Space Force; deactivate the unit; or assign the unit a new federal mission."

Air Force officials are seeking to waive Section 104 of Title 32 and Section 18238 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which state, respectively, that "no change in the branch, organization or allotment of a unit located entirely within a state may be made without the approval of its governor" and that National Guard units may "not be relocated or withdrawn under this chapter without the consent of the governor of the state."

Since the Space Force was formed in 2019 as part of the Department of the Air Force, a major point of contention has been what to do with the roughly 1,000 part-time Air National Guardsmen across 14 units operating space-related missions in Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, New York and Ohio.

The National Guard Association of the United States, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization, quickly spoke out against the Air Force proposal. Internal surveys of those unit members show "that most do not want to transfer to the Space Force," the association said in a statement last week.

Governors from some of the states potentially affected by the Air Force proposal also objected strongly to the plan.

"Governors on both sides of the aisle call for the immediate discontinuation of legislative proposals that endanger or deny the full and legitimate authority of governors to act in the capacity of commander in chief to their respective National Guard across states and territories," Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said in a National Governors Association press release Tuesday.

Kendall dismissed concerns that the proposal would set a precedent undermining the governors' authority, saying the Air National Guard assets are necessary for the active-duty Space Force.

"We've had much, much more political attention over this than it deserves," Kendall said. "We need a way to integrate these space capabilities, which are very valuable to us, into the Space Force. This is a unique situation. I have no indication that either the Air Force or Army Guard, anybody, is contemplating any other changes."

Some governors and National Guard Association officials have called for the creation of a Space National Guard. But the Department of the Air Force and the White House have pushed back against the effort and instead want to put Air National Guardsmen with space-related jobs in the Space Force's new part-time active-duty service model, which was approved in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act.

Under that new legislation, the Space Force is already working on the transfer of full-time Air Force reservists with space-related units into the service, but Saltzman warned in a memo late last month of the "sheer amount of work" required to get the part-time service model set up.

Despite the delays for the reservists, Saltzman defended the Department of the Air Force proposal, saying it also makes sense to eventually weave Air National Guard space units into the Space Force -- potentially under the part-time model proposed by the Space Force Personnel Management Act.

"In my estimation, the military effectiveness of those missions and taking care of those people is best performed as a single component using the same processes, procedures [and] management structure to take care of the people and to manage the missions," Saltzman said in response to's question.

The 2024 NDAA called for a report to "assess the feasibility and advisability of moving all units, personnel billets, equipment and resources performing core space functions under the operational control of the Space Force" from the Air National Guard.

At the symposium Wednesday, Kendall told that the report will be out "very shortly" but added, "It's not going to change our views."

Related: Air Force Proposes Bypassing Governors in 7 States to Move Guard Units into Space Force

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