United States Representative Mike Rogers speaks during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington DC, United States on February 29, 2024. (Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — House Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers is backing an Air Force proposal to transfer Guard units tasked with space missions into the Space Force, warning that the Guard advocates should not “waste their time” lobbying against the move, he told Breaking Defense today.

“I’m fully supportive,” of the proposal, said Rogers, R-Ala., following a HASC hearing on the Air Force and Space Force fiscal year 2025 budget requests.

“I think that what the Air Force is suggesting is going to be successful,” Rogers said. “We are used to the National Guard Association being a very political organization that deploys these kind of political activities. This is not one in which they should waste their time and this is not one in which they’re going to be successful.”

The Air Force’s proposal — which would see the Space Force absorb less than 600 Guard personnel performing space missions from six states and Washington DC — has ignited controversy among the Guard’s supporters, who largely advocate instead for the creation of a separate Space National Guard. The proposal would require that Congress override existing law mandating a governor’s approval for changes to a Guard unit.

The Guard has hit back hard against the proposal, with the head of the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) calling it an “existential threat” to the organization in an op-ed for Breaking Defense.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall referred to that op-ed during today’s hearing, saying with audible exasperation that “The reaction from the Guard, quite frankly, has been over the top on this. I mean, I read an article this morning by the head of the Guard foundation that this was an ‘existential threat’ to the Guard. We’re talking 500-plus people here.

“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,” he said.

After the hearing, Rogers told Breaking Defense he fully agreed with Kendall’s reasoning.

“The truth is only six states are involved, and in each state it’s such a narrow sliver of the existing Guard. Frank Kendall is right, it’s a de minimis move. So it is greatly exaggerated when the National Guard Association refers to this as an existential threat. It’s 578 people. It is not a threat,” Rogers said.

Not all members of Rogers’s committee appear to agree. Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican and Guard veteran, accused the proposal of making an “end-run” around gubernatorial prerogatives and “setting precedent for federal overreach on Guard issues for years to come” during the HASC hearing. Kendall has emphasized the proposal would be a one-off.

NGAUS President Francis McGinn, a retired Army National Guard two-star, told Breaking Defense that while Rogers “is entitled to his opinion,” the position of NGAUS remains unchanged.

“We do what we think is right for our membership and our constituency,” he said. “We think this sets a dangerous precedent.”

Questioning Space Force chief Gen. Chance Saltzman, Rogers asked during the hearing whether impacted Guard units under the proposal would have the option to transfer to the Space Force, be able to report to the same duty station, stay in their current state of residence and possibly access a “better system of benefits under the Space Force’s new hybrid personnel structure.”

“It is true,” Saltzman replied. “I think the best way to take care of these missions and the people that are currently doing them in the Air National Guard is to integrate them into the Space Force.”