On March 19, the secretary of the U.S. Air Force sent a legislative proposal to Congress that calls for the transfer of Air National Guard space missions, equipment, and personnel to the U.S. Space Force. The proposal, known as LP 480, also includes language that overrides the section of the law that requires governors to consent to changes to their National Guard units.

As an adjutant general, LP 480 presents a multitude of concerns. It would set a precedent for moving state forces to a federal chain of command without the governor’s consent and would reduce a state’s capability to respond to state emergencies without any input from the state. It would also create unnecessary costs for American taxpayers.

And LP 480 would degrade America’s space capabilities.

Last year, Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, the chief of Space Operations, told Congress that the Air National Guard’s roughly 1,000 space professionals make more than 30% of American space capability and a whopping 60% of the nation’s electromagnetic warfare capability.

LP 480 would move about 1,000 positions (known in the military as billets) from the Air National Guard to the Space Force. However, because the service members that occupy those positions signed contracts with the National Guard, they cannot be forced to transfer to the Space Force and must do so voluntarily.

The Air National Guard recently conducted a poll surrounding this proposed transfer and found that about 86 percent of space professionals would not transfer out of the National Guard. Instead, they would rather be re-missioned into other Air National Guard jobs.

It takes more than nine years to train a space operator from the street to the highest levels of competency in space operations. Air National Guard space operators make up more than 30% of American space capability. The effect that losing up to 86% of these personnel would be catastrophic. America does not need us to self-create a catastrophic gap in space capability right now — or ever.

Taxpayers would need to pay for recruiting, training, and building facilities for this new Space Force “Reserve.” Some estimate a cost of at least $500 million. Costs to establish a Space National Guard would be absorbed in the annual budget. We already have the personnel, training, and facilities within the National Guard. Why is the Space Force so ready to spend a significant amount of money to have at least a nine-year operational gap in capability knowing the National Guard has provided extraordinary capability to the U.S. Space mission for the last 28 years?

China is rapidly progressing in the space domain, and they continue to expand their capabilities. The U.S. is already at risk of losing our advantage. LP 480 would put us at risk of falling behind entirely.

Removing space missions from the National Guard would create up to a 10-year gap in space capability. All the while, our senior military leaders continue to tell Congress that a large-scale conflict with China in the next 5 to 10 years is more and more likely. So, it begs the question:

Is now the time to cut American capability in space?

Maj. Gen. Rich Neely is the adjutant general and commander of the Illinois National Guard. He is a Master Cyberspace officer who has served nearly 34 years as an Air Force officer. Prior to being appointed as the Illinois adjutant general, he served in the Pentagon from 2016 to 2018 as the Air National Guard’s deputy director for cyberspace and space Operations and the Air National Guard’s chief information officer. During this time, he witnessed the significant increase in the Air National Guard’s space portfolio as the Air Force requested more space missions be assigned to the Air National Guard.

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