Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond established Space Operations Command, the U.S. Space Force’s first of three Field Commands, during a ceremony at Peterson Air Force Base, Oct. 21, 2020. (Staff Sgt. J.T. Armstrong/U.S. Space Force/Public domain)
U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper of Colorado have spent the past week looking to rekindle discussions about keeping U.S. Space Command headquarters in the state, as the decision to move it to Alabama has been on hold for the past two years.
The senators met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday, after being the only two Democrats to vote against confirming Brendan Owens as assistant secretary of defense for energy and installations. Bennet had threatened to delay the Biden administration’s remaining six Pentagon nominees after Austin wouldn’t answer meeting requests.
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“We met with Secretary Austin today and agreed with (the Department of Defense) that politics should have no role in the Space Command basing decision process,” the senators said in a press release Thursday. “Over the last two years, investigations revealed that senior military leaders identified Peterson Space Force Base as their top choice for Space Command’s headquarters because it will reach Full Operational Capability faster than any other location, cost less, and minimize attrition and disruption to the mission — all of which are critical to our national security.”
In January 2021, just days before President Joe Biden was sworn in, the U.S. Air Force announced Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, as the preferred Space Command base, moving from Peterson Air Force Base, as it was then known, in Colorado Springs, which has housed the command since 1985.
The decision, which came under the administration of former President Donald Trump, was found to have “significant shortfalls in transparency and credibility” according to a Government Accountability Office report. In a separate report by 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. Bipartisan elected officials in Colorado, including Gov. Jared Polis and all seven Colorado members of Congress at the time, have called for Space Command to remain in the state.
I applaud Senator Hickenlooper and Senator Bennet for using the tools at their disposal to promote continued dialogue ... We all have the same ultimate ambition — we want a strong, capable and effective U.S. Space Command that can deter conflict.
– Shane Deichman, Colorado Space Business Roundtable vice chair
Colorado has the most jobs per capita in the nation for aerospace, and is second in the nation for private aerospace employment concentration, according to the Colorado Space Coalition, a group advocating on behalf of the industry. The state has 280 aerospace-related companies operating in it, compared to 10 in Alabama, and has seen a five-year job growth of 19.2%, nearly double the amount of national growth.
As a whole, Colorado Springs would lose up to 1,500 personnel and hundreds of support contractors if the move to Huntsville is finalized, according to Colorado Space Business Roundtable Vice Chair Shane Deichman.
“I’m personally worried about the low-end transition and building the networks (in Alabama) to replicate what we already have at Building 1 at Peterson Space Force Base,” Deichman said. “My big concern is that if you stop and pick up Space Command and relocate it, you’ve created an operational lull that could invite an adversary to do something they might not do otherwise.”
Deichman, who has worked at several organizations based in Huntsville, including Teledyne Brown Engineering, knows that the city has a “tremendous heritage” when it comes to its history of space engineering and growth. The problem, however, is where their priorities lie.
“(Redstone Arsenal’s) focus is on the early stage development testing and evaluation,” he said. “They’re not an operation center. That nuance has been lost in the debate.”
It is for this reason that the Colorado senators are concerned about national security, saying in their joint press release that, “In the face of Ukraine and China’s saber-rattling in the Pacific, national security cannot just be one of many criteria. It has to be the central priority.”
The secretary of defense has been tight-lipped about his thoughts on the matter, stating two years ago that he supports the decision-making process of Air Force leaders. For now, Colorado aerospace leaders continue to hold their breath awaiting a final decision.
“I applaud Senator Hickenlooper and Senator Bennet for using the tools at their disposal to promote continued dialogue,” Deichman said. “We all have the same ultimate ambition — we want a strong, capable and effective U.S. Space Command that can deter conflict.” SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
“I applaud Senator Hickenlooper and Senator Bennet for using the tools at their disposal to promote continued dialogue,” Deichman said. “We all have the same ultimate ambition — we want a strong, capable and effective U.S. Space Command that can deter conflict.”
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