State Air Guard Units Could Be Moved to Space Force Despite Governors' Opposition Under Senate Proposal

Conference call with civilian and military agencies regarding California wildfires
Tech. Sgt. Roy Davis and Staff Sgt. Matt Lemaire, 234th Intelligence Squadron intelligence analysts, sit on a conference call with various civilian and military agencies regarding the California wildfires Nov. 14, 2018, at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tristan D. Viglianco)

The Senate Armed Services Committee has included a provision in its version of a must-pass defense bill that would allow the Air Force to bypass state governors in transferring certain space-focused National Guard units into the active-duty Space Force, but with some exceptions.

The bill "requires the U.S. Air Force to transfer certain space functions of the Air National Guard to the U.S. Space Force," but adds it "shall not reduce the end strength for the affected state Air National Guard organizations." The Senate committee passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, on Thursday evening, but it still faces a long journey of negotiations with the House and votes before becoming law.

Late last month, the House Armed Services Committee's version of the NDAA made transferring those space-focused units optional, not mandatory, and required that governors must approve of any transfers. The Senate's version would allow those transfers to go ahead, but it is more limited in scope than the Air Force's original proposal.

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Senate Armed Services Committee staff told reporters Friday that the language "is narrowly tailored to only the very specific units and potentially numbers of billets that would be affected," adding that it would apply to six units in six states -- limiting it to just under 600 billets, or job positions.

"We named six units in six states, and we actually specified the maximum number of billets that could be moved, which is far narrower than what is in the [Air Force] proposal," a staffer said, but added that the "bill contains the administration's proposal to waive the statute on the governors' consent."

Specific details on which units would be affected have not yet been released. John Goheen, a spokesman for National Guard Association of the United States, told that the nonprofit Guard lobbying organization is waiting to see the actual text and will be reviewing the Senate's version of the proposal.

In April, reported that the Air Force had submitted a legislative proposal that would transfer Air National Guard units with space missions into the active-duty Space Force by amending section 104 of Title 32, as well as section 18238 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which requires state governors to sign off on such a move.

The proposal received swift condemnation from all 50 state governors, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, and the National Guard Association of the United States. Guard leaders and Guardsmen have said many in those affected units would choose to leave military service altogether rather than serve in the active-duty Space Force.

In late April, governors from across the country wrote a letter saying the proposal "undermines long-standing partnerships, precedence, military readiness and operational efficacy."

The Senate and House must still negotiate their versions to come up with a final bill they can agree upon. A final NDAA could be passed into law later this year.

Space Force officials began seeking transfers from the Air Force Reserve earlier this month under the Space Force Personnel Management Act, which was passed into law in late 2023.

That legislation allowed the Space Force to create full-time and part-time roles for its service members, a change from the way that other service branches typically maintain a Guard or reserve component.

But the Space Force isn't currently taking applications for part-time Guardians and won't be until at least 2026, which has angered Air National Guardsmen in space missions who face having to transfer to the active-duty, full-time Space Force if the Air Force's legislative proposal regarding their units is signed into law.

-- Rebecca Kheel contributed to this report.

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