The Pentagon’s newest combatant command won’t get a permanent headquarters until after the 2020 elections, officials told lawmakers this week on Capitol Hill.
The future location of U.S. Space Command is a coveted win for states across the country, from California to Florida to Colorado, but the Defense Department has pushed off the decision until after a new Congress and president are chosen, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said March 5.
“I am the responsible party,” Esper said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday, adding that he directed a pause to the Air Force’s search for a permanent headquarters following visits to House members during his nomination process. He said he heard from members that the selection process thus far had not been transparent enough and was “unfair.”
The department “directed it be revisited and a different approach be taken where they outline the criteria – the screening criteria — by which a place would meet as a qualifying material that would go out to all members and offer them to nominate locations, if you will,” Esper said.
The renewed process would take several months, and would likely take place after the election, he noted. “In fact, … I think it is probably best to keep it out of the election.”
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. Gen. John “Jay” Raymond is currently serving both as the U.S. Space Force’s Chief of Space Operations and as U.S. Space Command commander.
The Air Force released a list of six downselected potential locations in May 2019, including four bases in Colorado along with Vandenberg AFB, California, and Redstone Arsenal, Alabama (Defense Daily, May 15, 2019). Florida lawmakers have lobbied heavily for the command to go instead to the Sunshine State.
Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), a SASC member who is lobbying for the command to be based in his home state, relayed the criticisms from Congress in the hearing Wednesday. “A cynical person would, in today’s world, think that there was some political electoral politics coming into play into this, because Congress has wanted to do this and we’ve been supportive, but now we’re going to get delayed again in opening up this process.”
Earlier in the week, Air Force and Space Force officials also confirmed the delayed decision. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett told the SASC members on Tuesday 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 on Tuesday 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.”
“We will absolutely establish the criteria we need for each of these organizations and then base them accordingly,” Thompson added.
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.
Even then, Boyd noted that the process was very much not a done deal. 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.