Commentary

The National Guard: The perfect space partner

“The perfect partner” is how Gen. John Hyten — this country’s foremost authority on military space operations — describes the National Guard. Furthermore, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff insists that the newly formed U.S. Space Force “can’t do the space mission without the National Guard.”

With endorsements like these, one would think that the case for the creation of a separate Space National Guard would make itself. After all, this is not a new or radical idea. A January 2020 study conducted by the Air Force recommended to the secretary of defense the establishment of “an independent Space National Guard.”

Despite these facts, our military leaders are being asked to further study different ways to best employ the Space Force. While this endeavor is underway, the delay in creating a National Guard Space Force could have disastrous impacts — potentially orphaning our existing space units from their logical parent service and negatively impacting readiness, retention and morale.

The fact is that the National Guard is already in the space business — and in a big way. Currently, the National Guard provides 40 percent of the operational expeditionary space electronic warfare capabilities in the Space Force, with units in California and right here in Florida. With the coming addition of space squadrons to the Colorado, Guam and Hawaii National Guards, that number will grow to 60 percent. Additionally, the National Guard currently has other units performing critical space missions in Alaska, New York, and Ohio.

On a national level, our Guard space warfighting capabilities have already logged more than 35,000 hours of satellite operations and missile warnings; executed more than 30 satellite maneuvers; conducted over 8.9 million observations in support of space object identification; supported more than 800 combat missions; directly contributed to more than 2,000 confirmed enemy kills during a single deployment; and supported activities to secure the capture of nearly 1,130 enemy detainees. In the homeland, National Guard space warriors have logged 17,520 hours monitoring strategic missile warnings and tracked over 5.2 million objects to support the DoD’s space surveillance network.

Here in this great state, your Florida National Guard is already home to the 114th Space Control Squadron, a remarkable unit that has been executing a space mission since 2000. Based out of Patrick Air Force Base, the 89 guardsmen in the 114th SPCS are charged with the mission of “delivering offensive and defensive counter-space and space situational awareness to rapidly achieve flexible and versatile effects in support of global and theater campaigns.” Armed with the first new offensive weapon in the space force and deployable within 72 hours to engage in combat operations, this unit is on the leading edge of space warfare.

To be clear, I am not advocating for Space National Guard assets like the 114th SPCS to be stood up in every state and territory. Rather, I firmly believe that current National Guard units with a space mission should simply be shifted into a Space National Guard in order to align their capabilities with the appropriate parent command. Not doing so would add a step in the chain of command, requiring the Chief of Space Operations (currently Air Force Gen. Jay Raymond) to get permission from the Air Force and Army secretaries before being able to call on Guard capabilities.

For decades, the active component has relied upon the National Guard to augment its warfighting capabilities by providing soldiers and airmen who are trained to the same level and can integrate seamlessly into their deployed operations. Without a Space National Guard to call upon, the active duty Space Force will exhaust their personnel and have no warfighting bench to rely upon, potentially resulting in disastrous retention issues for this fledgling service.

Which brings me to my next point: our incredible people. When discussing the amazing value the National Guard provides, I normally make the point that our guardsmen train to the same standards as their active-duty counterparts, but cost 60 percent less to maintain. With regard to space operations, however, there is a point that is equally important as cost savings: the proven talent and training of our members.

The beauty of the Guard construct is that it allows patriotic-minded space experts to serve their state and nation, while bringing unmatched skills from their civilian occupations to the fight. Our guardsmen who belong to units with a space mission often work in the space industry full-time. In many cases, they engineer the very systems the U.S. Space Force will operate and deploy.

The space and technology industry is full of these men and women who proudly wear the uniform and contribute at all levels of the space mission. For decades, with their expertise, citizen-soldiers and airmen have monitored missile threats in the Pacific, performed space electronic warfare duties for combatant commands, and assisted state and local authorities with real-time satellite imagery that has saved lives and property during wildfires and hurricanes.

Moving forward, the National Guard will continue to play a critical role in bringing together private, public and non-governmental assets to thwart adversarial actions that could impact our homeland’s infrastructure, such as electrical grids and transportation networks underpinned by space-based technologies.

Authorities unique to the National Guard also provide military and civilian decision-makers maximum flexibility. Along with intergovernmental and interagency partners, the National Guard is postured to confront future threats that may blur the lines between state and federal authorities as the space domain becomes ever more important. If the National Guard is excluded from the Space Force, we will illogically be shrinking our competitive space rather than expanding it.

To recap, the case for a Space National Guard is clear — and the time is now. Billions of dollars of training and equipment already reside within the Guard’s existing infrastructure. Our guardsmen are highly skilled professionals with years of proven performance, innovation and longstanding partnerships with civilian space industries. These Space National Guardsmen would not only deliver valuable space capabilities here at home, but would also provide a bench of trained, combat ready soldiers and airmen to augment the active U.S. Space Force in defending our national interests.

Ultimately, all involved must consider what’s best for our nation going forward. By establishing a separate Space National Guard in FY 2021, and continuing to study ways the Reserve components can best serve DoD space operations, all will benefit.

So I wholeheartedly agree with General Hyten: we are the perfect partner for the newly formed United States Space Force. But we are much more than that. The National Guard is a necessary and integral artery to the heart of the mission.

Maj. Gen. James Eifert is Florida’s adjutant general.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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