The U.S. Air Force has picked Redstone Arsenal, Ala. as the “preferred location” for U.S. Space Command’s headquarters, pending a final decision in 2023 after the completion of an environmental impact assessment.
Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey said that Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations Bob Moriarty called her on the morning of Jan. 13 to tell her of the selection by Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett after Ivey, Redstone and city of Huntsville officials made their final pitch to the service in late December.
The Air Force is hosting a retirement ceremony for Barrett on Jan. 14, as the administration of President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office on Jan. 20.
Ivey said on Jan. 13 that Redstone Arsenal was the “most natural choice” to host U.S. Space Command because of the arsenal’s history of involvement in space exploration, including work on the Space Shuttle and building the Saturn launch vehicles for the Apollo program, and because of the presence of 65 federal agencies at Redstone Arsenal, “not to mention the growing presence of the FBI and other federal installations.”
Yet, Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis suggested on Jan. 13 that President Trump had overruled the service’s analysis of Peterson AFB as the best location and forced the selection of Redstone Arsenal in an attempt to curry favor with Alabama’s congressional delegation, including freshman Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). The two senators are to participate in the planned Senate impeachment trial of Trump on Jan. 19 for insurrection in fomenting the mob that invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Reports that the in-depth military process found Colorado Springs to be the best location for military readiness and cost and recommended Colorado to the president only to be overruled for politically motivated reasons are deeply concerning,” Polis said in a joint statement with Colorado Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera.
The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce also raised questions about the Air Force’s selection of Redstone Arsenal.
“Based on objective [Air Force] criteria,” Offutt AFB, Neb. “remains the optimum location for U.S. Space Command,” the chamber said Jan. 13. “The Nebraska team expects full transparency of the final review to support this assertion.”
Timothy Burke, the CEO of the Omaha Public Power District and the immediate past chairman of the board of the Greater Omaha Chamber, said in a statement that “Nebraska is the right choice for U.S. Space Command, and we are eager for full transparency regarding the final review process.”
Nebraska was the only state to offer a $107 million public/private incentive package to reduce the cost of the project to the Air Force, per the Greater Omaha Chamber.
Established in its first incarnation in September 1985 to provide joint command and control for all military forces in outer space and coordinate with the other combatant commands, U.S Space Command was inactivated in 2002 and its activities and personnel were moved to U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt AFB.
The new U.S. Space Command was established in August 2019–four months before the U.S. Space Force–and has been informally housed in Colorado Springs, Colo., at Peterson AFB– the former location of Air Force Space Command – since then.
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 Space Force headquarters is situated at the Pentagon, along with all the other services’ official headquarters.
After revising selection criteria last May, the Air Force named six possible headquarters locations for U.S. Space Command in November–Kirtland AFB, N.M.; Offutt AFB, Neb.; Patrick AFB, Fla; Peterson AFB, Colorado; Port San Antonio, Texas, and Redstone Arsenal (Defense Daily, Nov. 19). Four of those locations–Kirtland, Offutt, Patrick and Port San Antonio–were not on the Air Force’s original headquarters downselect list last May.
“The Department of the Air Force conducted both virtual and on-site visits to assess which of six candidate locations would be best suited to host the U.S. Space Command Headquarters based on factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support and costs to the Department of Defense,” the Air Force said on Jan. 13.
“Huntsville compared favorably across more of these factors than any other community, providing a large, qualified workforce, quality schools, superior infrastructure capacity, and low initial and recurring costs,” per the service. “Additionally, Redstone Arsenal offered a facility to support the headquarters, at no cost, while the permanent facility is being constructed.”
One defense analyst spoke out against the Air Force’s selection of Redstone Arsenal as the “preferred location” for the headquarters for U.S. Space Command and suggested that U.S. Space Command should remain at Peterson AFB.
“This will be a colossal waste of money,” Todd Harrison, the director of the aerospace security project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said on Twitter of the Air Force’s decision. “I hope it is one of the first things the new Pentagon leadership will reexamine once they are in place.”
“The decision reeks of being politically motivated–taking jobs from a state that voted for Biden and moving them to a state that voted for Trump,” Harrison said. “I don’t see how relocating the headquarters, building new facilities, and moving all of these people improves our national security or our space capabilities.”