The United States Space Command (SPACECOM), which was “reestablished” as part of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as a sub-unified combatant command under the U.S. Strategic Command, was set to relocate to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL.
However, the Biden administration may halt plans to move the command; NBC News first reported this week. A number of factors are behind the decision, but it follows a review of the process that led to the decision to relocate the headquarters from Colorado to Huntsville. Among the concerns is the operational disruption that moving SPACECOM could bring.
SPACECOM, one of the U.S. military’s 11 unified combatant commands, is separate from the United States Space Force, the sixth and newest branch of the U.S. military that is also the service responsible for carrying out the actions of the command. The Space Operations Command (SpOC), the United States Space Force’s space operations, cyber operations, and intelligence field command. It is headquartered at Peterson Space Force Base (SFB).
The Redstone Arsenal was selected as the preferred final location for the command, edging out Kirtland Air Force Base, Offutt Air Force Base, Joint Base San Antonio, and Patrick Space Force Base, as well as its interim location at Peterson.
However, as soon as Huntsville was selected, there was pushback from lawmakers in Colorado and New Mexico, who were not so happy their respective states were passed over.
It could take up to several years to build the new facility, in which time it was announced that the U.S. Space Command will continue to operate from its Peterson AFB provisional headquarters. And the decision not to keep Space Command at Peterson AFB had become one of the few bipartisan and potentially even unifying issues in the Centennial State. At the time of the announcement, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) reached out across the aisle to his Democrat colleagues, who have taken up the cause.
Colorado’s nine-member congressional delegation, made up of three Republicans and six Democrats at the time, even sent a letter to President Joe Biden to request a probe into the decision. One of those who signed the letter included Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), who also has brought up the issue with the then-new Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin – who was reportedly amendable to a review. In addition, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, vowed to “fight like hell” to keep the command in Colorado, where it would be close to other military space units.
Apparently those efforts have paid off.
Don’t Pack Up
Even though the move was still several years away, there have been concerns that Huntsville – despite its reputation as “Rocket City” for developing the rockets that put man on the moon – may not be the best HQ for SPACECOM. The military often considers numerous factors when deciding the location of a military command HQ, and that includes health care, room for growth, access to housing, proximity to airports, cost and overall quality of life.
In March 2022, Gen. James Dickinson, the commander of Space Command, told Congress that SPACECOM was on track to be fully operational within three years, wherever the headquarters is located. But just last month, Dickinson offered an accelerated timeline, and stated that at the Space Symposium in Colorado that SPACECOM was on track to be fully operational later this year, and more importantly while still headquartered in Colorado Springs.
A number of U.S. military commanders have voiced their preference to keep SPACECOM at Peterson AFB, rather than uprooting it and interfering with space operations, according to U.S. officials, per NBC News. The officials had reportedly cited the war in Ukraine and continuing military competition with China as needing constant attention.
“We cannot take our eye off the ball right now,” one U.S. military official was quoted as saying.
Colorado Springs was among the locations considered for a permanent SPACECOM headquarters, but according to U.S. military officials it did not come close to Huntsville as a preferred location when the military conducted its search. Currently, about 64% of SPACECOM’s authorized personnel are in place in Colorado.
Previously Peterson Air Force Base – as well as Peterson Field, and Army Air Base, Colorado Springs – the installation was renamed Peterson Space Force Base in July 2021 to reflect its prominent role in the new space service.
The future headquarters for SPACECOM was expected to draw an estimated 1,400 U.S. service members and their families, contractors and civilian employees, to the Huntsville area. Alabama lawmakers have expressed outrage following the NBC report.
“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,” said Sen. Katie Britt (R) in a statement. “That decision should remain in the Air Force’s purview.”
The sentiments were shared by Republican Governor Kay Ivey, who tweeted, “Alabama is the only choice for Space Command Headquarters — no ifs, ands or buts about it. The contest wasn’t even close. I’ll keep saying it, and Alabama will keep proving it until HQ is officially in Huntsville.”
In another show of bipartisanship, The Heart of Dixie’s lone Democrat in the House, Rep. Terri Sewell also tweeted, “The White House should immediately reconfirm Huntsville as the headquarters of Space Command. To change course would be because of politics and not merit. Surely, the Biden Administration would not allow politics to improperly influence this decision.”