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Air Force still backing Alabama as new Space Command headquarters

General John Raymond, U.S. Space Force chief of space operations, Jan. 10, 2020, on Cavalier Air Force Station, ND. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melody Howley)

Despite a controversy that has led to two separate government reviews, the Air Force’s top civilian leader said this month he remains “very confident” in the process that selected Huntsville, Ala., as the permanent home of the U.S. Space Command.

“We’re happy to have them come and review,” Air Force Acting Secretary John Ross told a May 7 U. S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing. He referred to two reviews under way into the decision to relocate the headquarters from Colorado Springs to Alabama.

The U.S. Space Command was re-established in 2019 and its temporary headquarters located in Colorado. Colorado is fighting furiously to keep it. At the request of Colorado U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, the Defense Department’s inspector general launched a review of the site selection in February. The General Accounting Office is also reviewing the process at Lamborn’s request. Here is Lamborn’s basic argument.

Lamborn has some support in Congress. Some opponents of the move – not all from Colorado – suspect former President Trump intervened at the last minute to direct the headquarters to Alabama instead of keeping it in Colorado. Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado also wrote President Biden this week saying the move would be bad for the intelligence community.

The Space Command’s commander, Gen. James Dickinson, told a congressional committee in April that a new secure communications network would be needed to connect an Alabama command headquarters to the Pentagon and other installations. “Admitted” it would be needed, according to coverage on The website said the communications system issue became news after “furious questioning” from Lamborn at a hearing. Alabama supporters of the move say an upgraded communications system would be built for the new command headquarters regardless of its permanent location.

At the April hearing, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) asked Dickinson if he knew of any political influence on the headquarters decision. Dickinson said he did not. In the same hearing, Brooks put the same question to Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, and Melissa Dalton, acting assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities. Both said they knew of no political influence on the basing decision.

And in February, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “communicated to Air Force leaders that he supports their decision-making process about the preferred location of Space Command headquarters,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

Acting Air Force Secretary Ross said May 7 that he welcomes the outside reviews. The headquarters selection was based on an existing “strategic basing process,” Ross said, and he has confidence in it. Ross made the comments responding to House subcommittee questions from U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Alabama),

“We have done the strategic basing process since 2009, and it has withstood outside review and we think it’s an analytically based process and so I’m happy to have them come and review,” Ross said. “We’re cooperating with them and we’ll give them all the data and documentation they need to review and then we’ll take it from there and see (if) they take it any further.”

“But yes we’re cooperating and I am at this stage very confident in our process,” Ross said.

In the House hearing, Air Force Acting Secretary Ross said the Air Force is doing a separate and legally required environmental examination of the Redstone site that won’t be finished until “some time in mid-to-late 2022.” At that point, he said, “we will make the final decision concerning Huntsville.”

Ross had no firm time frame for the GAO and DoD reviews. “I understand the (Defense Department inspector general) may finish by the Fall of this year,” he said, “and I don’t have a good feel when GAO (will finish). I understand they’ll probably take a bit longer.”

In the military’s base siting process, cities and states nominate themselves for military expansions and consolidations, and the Pentagon visits and studies each and then gives each contender one of three ranks: top third, middle third and bottom third. In the Space Command headquarters comparison, Alabama ranks in the top third in nine of the 21 categories. Colorado ranks in the top third in five categories.

Alabama ranks best in the categories of available and qualified workforce, nearness to mutually supporting space organizations, room for the 464,000 square-foot headquarters and 402,000 square-foot parking lot, security, available childcare, ability to absorb headquarters workers and their families in the local transportation system, one-time infrastructure costs, overall construction costs, and cost of quarters for 600 military personnel traveling with the command.

By comparison, Colorado Springs ranks in the top third in qualified workforce, mutually supporting space organizations, military housing capacity and access to veteran support. Colorado also ranked in the top third of candidate states in the ability to transfer the professional licenses of military spouses.


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