Colorado Delegation Petitions Biden to Review USSPACECOM HQ Decision

Colorado Delegation Petitions Biden to Review USSPACECOM HQ Decision

The entire Colorado delegation to the U.S. Congress sent a letter to President Biden today asking him to reconsider President Trump’s decision to locate the headquarters of U.S. Space Command in Alabama rather than Colorado.  The surprising decision was announced in the final days of the Trump Administration.

President Trump formally reestablished U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) in August 2019.  The decision paralleled a separate effort to establish U.S. Space Force (USSF), the newest of the six military services, which was accomplished in the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act.  USSF is headquartered at the Pentagon. Its mandate is to “organize, train, and equip” personnel who are then available to the unified combatant commands that fight wars.  USSPACECOM is one of the 11 unified combatant commands.

Colorado is home to a number of national security space installations at Peterson Air Force Base, Buckley Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base, and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. USSPACECOM is temporarily headquartered at Peterson.

Where to locate its permanent headquarters is a politically-charged question because many states want the prestige, and jobs, associated with it.  In May 2019, the Air Force announced six possible locations, four in Colorado (Buckley, Peterson, Schriever and Cheyenne Mountain). The other two were in California (Vandenberg AFB) and Alabama (Redstone Arsenal).

Several states protested and the competition was reopened in May 2020. On November 19, 2020,  the Air Force announced a new list of six more geographically diverse candidates from the 24 states that applied:

  • Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico
  • Offutt AFB, Nebraska
  • Patrick AFB, Florida
  • Peterson AFB, Colorado
  • Port San Antonio, Texas, and
  • Redstone Army Airfield (or Redstone Arsenal),  Alabama

On January 13, 2021, seven days before the end of the Trump Administration, then-Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett announced that Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL was the choice.

The decision produced gasps, since Colorado was assumed to be the front-runner with Florida in second place.

Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, both Democrats, and Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn immediately wrote to Biden as President-elect to reconsider the decision.

With Biden now officially in the Oval Office, they and the other members of Colorado delegation wrote again today.  Joining the original three are Rep. Joe Neguse (D), Rep. Diana DeGette (D), Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D), Rep. Jason Crow (D), Rep. Ken Buck (R), and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R).

They lay out their case as to why Colorado is the better home for USSPACECOM and argue that moving it to another location is not cost effective. The bipartisan coalition also asserted that the decision reeks of political influence.

Political Influence. The Department of Defense must also review reports of political influence in this two-year process. At the outset, it is unclear why there was a basing process to reestablish a command with an existing and concentrated mission that was rehatted. In addition, it is unclear why the Air Force slowed and eventually stopped its standard strategic basing process in 2019. Certain press reports have suggested this was done due to requests from various Members of Congress who argued their state should have been included in the process. Finally, there is evidence President Trump’s political considerations influenced the timing and final decision.

Gen. James Dickinson (USA)

Gen. James Dickinson (U.S. Army) commands USSPACECOM.

During a webinar today with the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Studies, he pointed out that USSPACECOM will remain in Colorado Springs for the next “five to six years” in any case since new facilities would be needed to house it elsewhere.  Dickinson is the former Commanding General of the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command based at Redstone Arsenal.  He also has ties to Colorado, however.  He is a native of Estes Park, Colorado and earned several degrees from Colorado universities

Dickinson said Redstone was chosen out a “pool of extremely strong contenders” because it compared favorably on factors including “mission infrastructure capacity” and “cost to the Department of Defense.”

His message was that wherever USSPACECOM is located “we will do what we need to do to make sure that the mission is never at jeopardy.”  He agreed that if Huntsville remains the choice, it will take several years to build the classified facilities that are needed.

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