U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Harris, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds” advance crew chief, assists U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Justin Elliot, Thunderbirds commander and leader, after landing at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, May 23, 2022. (U.S. Space Force photo by Paul Honnick/Public domain)
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced on Monday it will headquarter U.S. Space Command in Colorado, a decision that rejects efforts made during the last administration to move the U.S. military facility to Alabama.
The decision comes as Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville continues to block hundreds of senior military promotions from moving forward in the U.S. Senate over his objections to a Defense Department policy that would allow service members to travel for abortion access in some circumstances. President Joe Biden has repeatedly criticized Tuberville over the blockade and said last week that the Senate should be able to “approve all those outstanding military nominees now.”
Tuberville in a statement said it was “shameful” the Biden administration waited until Congress was out of Washington, D.C., during its August recess to announce its decision.
“The top three choices for Space Command headquarters were all in red states — Alabama, Nebraska, and Texas. Colorado didn’t even come close,” Tuberville said. “This decision to bypass the three most qualified sites looks like blatant patronage politics, and it sets a dangerous precedent that military bases are now to be used as rewards for political supporters rather than for our security.”
Colorado officials had expressed concern earlier that former President Donald Trump’s decision was politically motivated, as he waited to decide where to locate Space Command until after the election in 2020 and before he left office. Trump won Alabama, but Biden won Colorado.
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Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a written statement the decision announced Monday was made following “a thorough and deliberate evaluation process” that included the Defense secretary and senior military leaders.
“Locating Headquarters U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs ultimately ensures peak readiness in the space domain for our nation during a critical period,” Ryder said. “It will also enable the command to most effectively plan, execute and integrate military spacepower into multi-domain global operations in order to deter aggression and defend national interests.”
A senior administration official at the White House said in a statement that Biden has decided to “establish Colorado Springs as the permanent location of U.S. Space Command headquarters” after consulting with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Biden’s decision to keep the headquarters in Colorado Springs hinged on the impacts a move to Alabama would have had on Space Command’s “operational readiness to confront space-enabled threats during a critical time in this dynamic security environment,” according to the senior administration official.
The headquarters will reach “full operational capability” before the end of August, the official said.
Moving Space Command’s headquarters to Alabama would have required commanders to transition in the mid-2020s with the site not opening until the early to mid-2030s, the senior administration official said in a written statement.
Biden believed that risk “unacceptable, especially given the challenges we may face in the space domain during this critical time period,” the senior administration official said.
Colorado senators jubilant
Colorado’s two U.S. senators, both Democrats, celebrated the decision, saying their home state is the best location for the headquarters.
“Over the past two and half years, we have repeatedly made the case that the Trump Administration’s decision to relocate U.S. Space Command was misguided,” said Sen. Michael Bennet. “Today’s decision restores integrity to the Pentagon’s basing process and sends a strong message that national security and the readiness of our Armed Forces drive our military decisions.”
Colorado’s junior senator, John Hickenlooper, said the decision defeated political favoritism.
“After two investigations and rigorous review by the Department of Defense, the administration has made the decision that’s in our country’s best interest,” Hickenlooper said. “Most importantly, this decision firmly rejects the idea that politics — instead of national security — should determine basing decisions central to our national security.”
Colorado elected officials have advocated keeping Space Command in the state out of concerns for national security, and moving and building a new base from scratch in Alabama would be more time-consuming and costly to taxpayers, they say.
The Alabama congressional delegation was furious with the decision, however.
Sen. Katie Britt said in a statement that Biden’s decision was irresponsible and an example of partisan politics.
“Huntsville finished first in both the Air Force’s Evaluation Phase and Selection Phase, leaving no doubt that the Air Force’s decision to choose Redstone as the preferred basing location was correct purely on the merits,” Britt said. “That decision should have remained in the Air Force’s purview. Instead, President Biden is now trying to hand the Gold Medal to the fifth-place finisher.”
Tuberville said he would continue to press for Space Command to be headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama.
Tuberville had inserted language into the Senate’s annual defense policy bill that tied the Air Force construction budget and the Air Force secretary’s travel budget to a final decision on the location of Space Command.
Colorado v. Alabama
Military leaders have said Space Command could reach full operational capacity at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs much faster than it could anywhere else, with the lowest cost and disruption to their mission.
Space Command is currently located at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, which was the site of a previous version of Space Command from 1985 to 2002, and the Air Force has conducted space operations from the site since.
The Trump administration decision to move the headquarters to Alabama was found to have “significant shortfalls in transparency and credibility” according to a Government Accountability Office report.
The GAO report noted that the Air Force used a three-phased process between March 2020 and January 2021, that ended with officials choosing “Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama as the preferred location.”
In a separate report from the Defense Department Office of Inspector General, military officials were said to have recommended Colorado Springs as the preferred location, but that the ultimate decision to relocate was justified.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said the decision to keep Space Command in Colorado Springs is “an exciting outcome.”
“I am grateful to the strong, bipartisan coalition of leaders from across Colorado who never wavered in our commitment to keeping Space Command in our state and national defense,” Polis said. “Colorado’s unique aerospace strengths provide the innovation and commitment to service necessary to ensure our national security, especially during such a critical moment.”
Doug Lamborn, the Republican representative for Colorado Springs in Congress, commended the Biden administration’s decision for “prioritizing national security above political interests.” He said it’s imperative that Space Command be operational as soon as possible given military threats from China and Russia.
“Colorado Springs has always been the legitimate home of U.S. Space Command’s headquarters, and I am delighted that today’s decision validates this fact,” Lamborn said in a statement. “This decision aligns with the best military advice of countless senior military leaders who all agree that Peterson Space Force Base is the most viable option for USSPACECOM to reach full operational capability the fastest and is the best permanent home for its long-term operations.”
Colorado Springs Mayor Yemi Mobolade said in a tweet that the decision affirms that Colorado Springs “is the home of space.” He said the city is committed to Space Command’s long term success.
“It is clear this final decision is in the best interest of our national security and is the most responsible use of taxpayer dollars,” Mobolade said. “Today marks the beginning of the next chapter of our city’s long and proud military history and Colorado Springs will continue to rally around and support our service members, veterans, and their families.”
House members from Alabama echoed their senators’ complaints
U.S. Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, rebuked Biden for deciding to leave the headquarters in Colorado Springs.
“The Biden administration’s shameful delay to finalize the permanent basing decision for U.S. Space Command warranted the opening of a Congressional investigation,” Rogers said.
“I will continue this investigation to see if they intentionally misled the Armed Services Committee on their deliberate taxpayer-funded manipulation of the selection process,” Rogers added. “I will continue to hold the Biden administration accountable for their egregious political meddling in our national security. This fight is far from over.”
Alabama Rep. Dale Strong said in a written statement that Huntsville would have been “the best place for U.S. Space Command Headquarters.”
“It is shameful that the Biden Administration is ignoring what is best for our nation’s security and is instead using their woke agenda to make this decision,” Strong said. “If they think this will go away … they are wrong. I will ensure they have to explain their actions and answer our questions on the record.”
Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall in a statement he fully supports Biden’s decision to keep Space Command in Colorado.
“Today’s decision by President Biden to locate the permanent headquarters of U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs will avoid any disruption to its operational capability,” Kendall said. “The Department of the Air Force will now work expeditiously to implement the decision.”
Washington, D.C. senior reporter Ashley Murray and Alabama senior reporter Ralph Chapoco contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:35 p.m., July 31, 2023, to include new information and quotes.
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