The Colorado National Guard plays a huge role in the growing space defense industry in Colorado. Yet, there is a glaring hole right now that could be filled with the establishment of a Space National Guard. Legislation has been introduced in the Senate and is still being developed in the House with bi-partisan support which includes the Colorado congressional delegation.
At Peterson Space Force Base, some key components of our space defense command have been happening for more than twenty years by members of the Air National Guard. I recently talked to Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Gold, the commander of the 138th Space Squadron at Peterson about what role they play, he says it's all about electromagnetic warfare, "It's a counter communication space squadron, so what we do is take the ability of our adversaries to communicate through space, communication systems and we deny that and we also provide a space for our forces to ensure continuity of communication".
Now that's the federal side of their mission, there is also a state component which falls under the umbrella of the governor's office. These citizen airmen and women also respond to all manner of domestic operations here in Colorado, think natural disasters.
Right now, they are aligned with the U.S. Air Force, even though their mission is space-based. When the U.S. Space Force was created in 2019, the Air Force divested most of its space-based mission moving training and infrastructure needs to Space Force but on the active duty level only. These guard members were performing nearly twenty percent of the space mission, so it left these part-time guard members in limbo and that's why there is a push right now in Washington to establish the Space National Guard. It would transition these airmen and women to guardians, which those in the U.S. Space Force are called. Lieutenant Colonel Gold explains the dilemma that comes with this divestiture and subsequent problems, "And being functionally aligned under the Air Force versus the Space Force creates challenges with moving funds around, with collaboration on training and a lot of the staff functions planning functions and the deployment functions are currently misaligned and clunky to be quite honest"
The 138th Space Squadron here on Peterson Space Force Base is one of two guard units in Colorado integrated with the Space Force mission, the other up in Greeley. All told, system-wide, 14 guard units in 8 states and Guam utilizing over a thousand personnel, most of the members here in Colorado. Now, if this legislation passes and it has bi-partisan support, the thought is it will better enable Space Force to recruit and retain these skilled personnel.
The debate in Washington is whether establishing a Space National Guard is even necessary, with pushback from top-level leaders including the Air Force Secretary and others who argue it is not cost-effective. But those who advocate for the guard here in Colorado claim the scale of cost analysis is flawed, saying the move will only cost $250-thousand dollars, compared with estimates of some $500-million from the White House and the congressional budget office. Parker White, who serves as Legislative Liaison and Public Information Officer for the Colorado National Guard tells me, "We're not looking to procure new equipment, we don't need to train a massive new force, we're not looking to standup new buildings, new command centers, we don't need any of that, we already have the infrastructure, we already have the equipment, we've been doing this mission for over 20 years."
White says this is about securing funds for just the fourteen guard units I mentioned not an expansion to every state in the union. Joining that argument, Colorado Senators Hickenlooper, Bennet, and Congressman Doug Lamborn, among others, contend the mission, long term, not money is essential to our national defense strategy now that space-based military operations play such a prominent role with Colorado at the forefront. White explains the long-term cost impact, "If you were to cut those units and try to rebuild that capability in the active duty force, we project that would be an exceptionally expensive endeavor and it would take up to ten years to rebuild the current expertise and capability we have right now if you didn't create the space national guard."
And, considering the argument that the guard helps grow the defense and aerospace industries in Colorado, the incentive of working and training men and women through the guard who also serve in a civilian capacity makes good economic sense, a force multiplier which White calls a win-win for Colorado, "We can take that person, bring them in, get them trained in a high demand skill, get them a clearance and get them that trade so they can come back and unlike the active duty force, where they go off and serve in other parts of the country when you sign up for the Colorado National Guard and you go into one of these space units, you get trained in those skills, get that clearance and come right back to being working in your local community."
Right now, there is a senate version of the "Space National Guard Establishment Act" that has been introduced and there is a house version that is still being developed. White says writing language to change the financial impact is key but also developing good policy. We will continue to track the legislation to see if this in fact comes to pass in this congressional budget cycle.