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53 U.S. states, territories oppose transfer of National Guard units to Space Force

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The leaders of 48 U.S. states and five U.S. territories oppose a Pentagon plan to transfer National Guard units from states to Space Force, bypassing the consent of governors.

They argue the plan ignores gubernatorial authority, undermines more than 100 years of precedent and jeopardizes national security and military readiness.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall submitted Legislative Proposal 480 to the U.S. Senate and House Armed Services committees in March asking Congress to give him unilateral authority to transfer state Air National Guard units to the Space Force without first obtaining the consent of their governor and commander in chief.

The purpose is to build the Space Force by pulling roughly 600 Guard personnel from 14 units from six states and Washington, D.C.

According to the National Guard Bureau, if the Air Force didn’t pull from these states’ National Guard units, it could take roughly nine years to meet its quota and cost roughly $1 billion. Pulling guardsmen from states would be immediate and only cost roughly $250,000 by contrast, it estimates.

The U.S. military’s space operations are already heavily reliant on state National Air Guard units, which comprise 30% of squadrons and 60% of the military’s electromagnetic warfare capability.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the president and congressional leaders, the governors of 48 states and leaders of five U.S. territories expressed their “strong objection” to LP480, saying it “would weaken or eliminate their authority over the National Guard and threaten readiness and operational efficacy of their units.”

LP480 “sidesteps, eliminates or otherwise reduces Governors’ authority within their states and territories and undermines longstanding partnerships, precedence, military readiness and operational efficacy,” they said, pointing to federal statutes.

For over a century, United States Code, Title 10 and Title 32, have stipulated gubernatorial authority over the National Guard. Title 32, Section 104 states no change in the branch, organization or allotment of a state’s National Guard units can occur without the approval of a state’s governor. Title 10 Section 18238 stipulates that a state’s Air National Guard cannot be removed or withdrawn without consulting with and getting approval from its governor.

LP480 also “negatively affects the important relationships” between the states and the Department of Defense “at a time when we need to have full trust and confidence between the two to meet the growing threats posed by the era of strategic competition as well as natural disasters,” they said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said LP480 would “flout more than a century of precedent and undermine federal law protections for state control of their National Guard forces.”

Florida would be impacted if the Florida Air National Guard’s 114th Electronic Warfare Squadron is transferred to the Space Force.

DeSantis sent a separate letter, arguing that transferring Florida’s squadron without his consent “would be federal overreach, a violation of the federalist design of the National Guard, and would hinder Florida’s ability to appropriately prepare for and respond to domestic emergencies.”

He also said that Florida’s National Guard troops continue to respond to hurricanes and natural disasters while the federal government under-resources them compared to other large states. To supplement their efforts, he and the state legislature last year re-established the Florida state guard.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and other members of Congress have expressed support for LP480.

But retired Maj. Gen. Francis McGinn, president of the National Guard Association of the United States, argues, “Air National Guard space professionals and their equipment, by law, belong to a governor until mobilized by the president.”

He also said the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act doesn’t authorize LP480 and doesn’t authorize part-time positions in the Space Force.

Air Guard space professionals don’t want to transfer to Space Force, he said. Many serve part-time while working in high-tech fields. “They do not want to serve full time, and they do not want to be subject to moving. Additionally, there are currently no part-time positions in the Space Force, and there will not be any soon.”

The governors also argue the plan threatens the careers of state-based service members “who will be forced to choose between state service or continuing in their current field at a time when there are already significant recruitment challenges.”

“The Air Force plan would destroy the Air Guard’s space units,” McGinn says. “These are some of the most experienced space units in the military. The nation would suddenly be without their capabilities at a time when our nation increasingly depends on satellites and our adversaries are rapidly expanding their military presence in space.”

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