The future location of the U.S. military’s newest combatant command is once again open for contenders across the country, as the Air Force announced May 15 a revised approach for choosing the permanent location of U.S. Space Command.
U.S. Space Command was established in August 2019, and has been informally housed at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado – the former location of Air Force Space Command – since then. The Air Force released a list of six downselected potential locations in May 2019 (Defense Daily, May 15, 2019).
But the competition is now officially re-opened, and municipality representatives can self-nominate their areas. Submissions are due June 30 for an expected selection by early 2021, according to a May 14 letter signed by John Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy, and directed to “the Nation’s Governors.”
When fully established, U.S. Space Command will include about 1,400 military and civilian personnel, Henderson said. Nominees must meet three minimum screening criteria: they must have a population base that is within the top 150 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the United States, be located within 25 miles of a military base, and have a Livability Index score of 50 points out of 100 or higher as determined by the American Association of Retired Persons Public Policy Institute.
The locales that meet those three criteria will then be rated individually on a 0-100 scale based on four areas of evaluation, per Air Force documents. Those areas include mission-related assessments, including the availability of a qualified workforce and proximity to supporting space entities; infrastructure capacity, including how close the site would be to a military base with access to medical care, childcare and housing needs; community support; and costs to the Air Force to establish the command.
Colorado Springs, Colorado, will remain home for the command until a permanent headquarters location is selected and facilities are ready in approximately six years, the Air Force said Friday.
The Air Force’s original downselection had included four bases in Colorado – Peterson AFB, Schriever AFB, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station and Buckley AFB – along with Redstone Arsenal, Alabama and Vandenberg AFB, California.
Back in March, defense officials shared with Congress that the Air Force was planning to reopen the aperture. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a hearing that month that a decision was expected in the spring, while Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of the U.S. Space Force, told the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee then that the service had been “directed to … go back, open up the aperture, and look at all of them. … That includes bases. It includes perhaps some nontraditional locations.”
The eventual site selection for U.S. Space Command is expected to bring a windfall of aerospace opportunities and jobs to the headquarters location. John Boyd, principal of the Boyd Company, called it “the most coveted project out there” in an interview with Defense Daily last December, saying it would attract skilled labor for avionics and other related fields to the region.
Florida lawmakers including Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) – a SASC member and DeSantis’ predecessor – have been “working diligently behind the scenes” to lobby President Trump to place the command in Florida, Boyd said.
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), the ranking member of the HASC strategic forces subcommittee, announced March 15 that the Dayton area would be submitting a proposal. Turner’s district is home to Wright-Patterson AFB, where the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) is located as well as Air Force Materiel Command.
“The Secretary of Defense has confirmed that the work being done at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is critically important to our National Defense Strategy in the space domain,” Turner said in a statement. “I have been in touch with the Governor’s office and with the Dayton Development Coalition to assemble our team to prepare our community’s submission in the Space Command competition.”
However, not all lawmakers are pleased with the decision to reopen the competition. HASC Strategic Forces Chairman Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) called the change “worse than a boondoggle; it’s a moondoggle” in a Friday statement.
“This is more Trump Administration grandstanding on the Space Force and its combatant command,” Cooper said. “There are only a handful of states that have the qualifications to compete for Space Force and SPACECOM HQ, so to tempt 45 other states during a time of record unemployment is senseless and cruel.”
U.S. Space Command – a geographical combatant commander — is a separate entity from the U.S. Space Force, the newest branch of the U.S. armed forces that sits under the Department of the Air Force. The U.S. Space Force headquarters is situated at the Pentagon, along with all the other services’ official headquarters.