U.S. Governors Oppose Air Force Proposal To Staff Space Force

Governor Greg Abbott | Image by Greg Abbott/Facebook
Governor Greg Abbott | Image by Greg Abbott/Facebook

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and various other governors across the country are voicing their opposition to a legislative proposal that would relocate Air National Guard units engaged in space missions to the U.S. Space Force.

Legislative Proposal 480 (LP 480) was submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee by the U.S. Department of Defense as a means of bolstering the Space Force.

Established in December 2019, the Space Force — organized under the Department of the Air Force — protects American interests in and from space through systems of satellites and sensors both on Earth and in orbit.

However, the proposal to staff up the youngest branch of the armed forces requires that Congress override existing law to allow the shift of guardsmen to occur without needing consent from the governors of the affected states, as reported by Breaking Defense.

As a result, Gov. Abbott penned a letter to President Joe Biden expressing his disapproval of LP 480, saying it “poses an intolerable threat” to National Guards.

“That proposal would give the Secretary of the Air Force unilateral authority to transfer Air National Guard units to the Space Force — without first obtaining gubernatorial consent,” he wrote.

He noted that although Texas may not be as directly affected by the new proposal, he rejects it in principle.

“Although the Texas Air National Guard does not have these types of missions, I strongly oppose any attempt to sideline governors when it comes to their respective National Guards,” he said.

Citing 32 U.S.C. § 104; 10 U.S.C. § 18238, he noted, “By departing from this sensible arrangement, and allowing the Secretaries to dismantle National Guard units on a whim, Legislative Proposal 480 would set a dangerous precedent.”

Section 18238 of Title 10 mandates that no unit of the Air National Guard can be removed or withdrawn without prior consultation and approval from the governor. Similarly, section 104 of Title 32 stipulates that any alteration in the branch, organization, or allocation of National Guard units within a state must be approved by its governor.

Abbott underscored the importance of maintaining this established protocol to ensure the readiness and effectiveness of National Guards in responding to various emergencies.

“The Texas National Guard plays a crucial role in protecting over 30 million Texans. In recent years, members of the Texas National Guard have heroically responded to hurricanes, wildfires, and a variety of other disasters, including the one at the Texas–Mexico border. Most recently, the Texas National Guard responded to the largest wildfire in Texas history with aircraft to dump water and with an MQ-9 Reaper to assess the situation on the ground,” he wrote.

Abbott’s letter echoed that of a coalition of 53 governors from 48 states and five territories to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, urging the withdrawal of LP 480 because it “disregards gubernatorial authorities regarding the National Guard and undermines over 100 years of precedent as well as national security and military readiness.”

“Governors must maintain full authority as Commanders in Chief of these assets to effectively protect operational readiness and America’s communities,” the April 29 letter asserted.

However, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said the state governors are overreacting, as the number of National Guard members affected would only be about 500.

“We’re not talking an existential threat. No one is suggesting dismantling the Guard. This is a sui generis, a de minimis exception to our norm, and it’s necessary to make the Space Force effective as it needs to be. I’m sorry this has become such a politicized issue. It should be very straightforward,” Kendall said, according to Breaking Defense.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, the House Armed Services Committee chair, has expressed support for the measure.

“I think that what the Air Force is suggesting is going to be successful,” he said, per Breaking Defense.

Nonetheless, Abbott advised the U.S. Department of the Air Force to retract LP 480 and instead collaborate with the affected state governors to develop strategies for enhancing the Space Force that comply with federal laws and respect the authority of state leaders.

“Instead of attempting such a power grab in Congress, the U.S. Department of the Air Force should work with the affected governors to build up the Space Force in a way that is consistent with federal law,” the Texas governor concluded in his letter to the president.

In the upper chamber of Congress, a bipartisan group of senators has proposed an alternative to LP 480, co-sponsoring a bill that would create a separate Space National Guard.

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