Shady. That’s the best word to describe the Trump administration’s decision to move Space Command from its home in Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Alabama.
While campaigning in Colorado Springs in February 2020, Trump predicted that he and former Sen. Cory Gardner were going to win Colorado in a landslide. Trump knew he needed a big turnout in Colorado Springs. Trump jeopardized the quintessential carrot when he indicated to the delight of large crowds, that Colorado Springs, Space Command’s temporary home could be its permanent home, saying, “I love the Air Force Academy. And you have all the basic amenities, so you are being strongly considered.”
Space, the last frontier, has become an important national security issue and it is critical to maintain America’s superiority in an ever-changing threat landscape. It is so significant that Space Command was reinstated in 2019 with the mission to “protect and defend the space domain”. Space Command, a war-fighting unified combatant command, oversees all military operations in space.
Twenty-four states applied to be the permanent home of the command, before the list was narrowed down to six finalists by the Air Force. The location selection process was required to use objective and relevant scoring factors to rank the six locations.
Trump and Gardner both lost Colorado to a landslide, and on January 13 — the day of his second impeachment for his role in the rebellion — Trump announced that Huntsville, Alabama would be its permanent home.
Multiple news outlets have reported that anonymous sources say Trump personally overruled military leaders’ decision to give space command to Colorado Springs and chose Huntsville for political reasons. Namely, because of Alabama’s electoral support as well as his desire to keep state Congress legislators on his side amid his ongoing impeachment battle.
Congressman Doug Lambourn, a staunch conservative and pro-Trump supporter, told the Washington Examiner, “Their decision was originally for Colorado Springs. They were told by the president, ‘You turn it into Alabama,’ and they just went back and that Find ways to justify the decision.”
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, Gov. Jared Polis, Senators Michael Bennett and John Hickenlooper, Lambourn and the entire Colorado congressional delegation, are in lockstep and working together to reverse the decision. He has some powerful arguments.
Colorado Springs was the home of Space Command from 1985 to 2002 and from 2019. From an operations standpoint, there is unparalleled synergy and capability that comes with Space Command’s location near the National Space Defense Center, Northern Command and NORAD. And, about 60 miles away, Buckley Space Force Garrison in Aurora is home not only to Space Based Infrared Satellites (SBIRS) command and control functions, but also the location of the Air Data Facility—Colorado.
Colorado also boasts the largest space economy in the country. We are home to major space systems that enable military operations around the world. There are more than 500 companies and suppliers with over 33,000 employees working directly in the civilian space sector. There are an estimated 230,000 aerospace-related jobs in Colorado across all industry sectors. It’s such an important area that Colorado has retired Major General Jay Lindell, a state-funded aerospace and defense industry champion.
The Space Command is expected to eventually employ 1,400 personnel at its headquarters. And, we have well educated workforce to fill these highly skilled positions. Colorado is ranked as the fifth most educated state while Alabama was one of the five least educated states.
Sen. Bennett and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote a letter to the president asking him to review the decision on grounds of national security. Among other things, two senators with a keen understanding of intelligence issues wrote, “We are concerned that this decision did not take into account how intelligence community dependencies and missions could be affected by such a move.”
Indeed, with the change in administration, Colorado is fortunate to have two strong Democratic senators pushing President Joe Biden and others to correct this wrong.
The Department of Defense Inspector General and the United States Government Accountability Office have both separately investigated the Trump administration’s decision to move Space Command.
Just last week, two retired generals, Air Force General Ed Eberhart, who once headed the US Space Command in Colorado Springs, and retired Army Lieutenant General Ed Anderson, who headed the Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville — yes, that HUNTSVILLE — A paper opined that it would take $1.2 billion to move the headquarters and stay in Colorado Springs safe because it could reach full mission capability as rapidly as seven years.
In addition to the investigation and a direct appeal to the White House, there will be other opportunities for the Colorado delegation to lean legislatively as well. And, they will not be alone. The rising spring of other states and the leaders are also demanding answers.
The final decision will not be resolved in the short term, but the move is not going to happen in the short term either. A final decision is expected in spring 2023 after an environmental review. If the decision goes ahead, command will be transferred to 2026.
Hopefully this time it will be done on merit.
Doug Freednash is a native of Denver, partner with law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Shrek and former chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper.
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