Shady. That’s the best word to describe the Trump administration’s decision to move the Space Command from its home in Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Alabama.
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 dangled the quintessential carrot when he hinted to the delight of the large crowd, that Colorado Springs, the temporary home of the Space Command could be its permanent home saying, “I love the Air Force Academy. And you have all the infrastructure, so you’re being strongly considered.”
Space, the final frontier, has become a vital national security issue and maintaining America’s superiority is critical in a constantly changing threat landscape. It is so important that Space Command was reinstated in 2019 with a mission to “protect and defend the space domain.” Space Command, a warfighting unified combatant command oversees all military operations in space.
Twenty-four states applied to be the command’s permanent home before the list was whittled 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 in a landslide, and on January 13th — the day of his second impeachment for his role in the insurrection — Trump announced that Huntsville, Alabama would be its permanent home.
Multiple news outlets have reported that anonymous sources say Trump personally overruled the military leaders’ decision to award Space Command to Colorado Springs and chose Huntsville for political reasons. Namely, because of Alabama’s electoral support coupled with his desire to have the state’s congressional legislators on his side amidst his ongoing impeachment battle.
Congressman Doug Lamborn, a staunch conservative and Trump supporter told the Washington Examiner, “their decision was originally for Colorado Springs. They were told by the president, ‘You change this to Alabama,’ and they just went back and found ways to justify that decision.”
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, Gov. Jared Polis, Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, Lamborn and the entire Colorado congressional delegation, are in lockstep and working closely together to reverse this decision. They possess some powerful arguments.
Colorado Springs was home to Space Command from 1985 to 2002 and since 2019. From an operations standpoint, there is unique synergy and efficiencies that come from having Space Command being located near the National Space Defense Center, Northern Command, and NORAD. And, roughly 60 miles away, Buckley Space Force Garrison in Aurora is not only home to the Space Based Infrared Satellites (SBIRS) command and control operations, but also the location of Air Data Facility-Colorado.
Colorado also boasts the largest space economy in the country. We are home to the major space systems that enable military operations around the world. There are over 500 companies and suppliers with over 33,000 employees directly employed in the civil space sector. Colorado has an estimated 230,000 aerospace-related jobs in all industry sectors. It is such an important sector that Colorado has a state-funded Aerospace and Defense Industry Champion, retired Major General Jay Lindell.
Space Command is expected to employ 1,400 personnel eventually at its headquarters. And, we have the educated workforce to fill these highly skilled positions. Colorado has been ranked the fifth most educated state while Alabama was one of the five least educated states.
Sen. Bennet and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, penned a letter to the president asking him to review the decision on national security grounds. Among other things, the two senators with a keen understanding of intelligence issues wrote, “we are concerned that this decision did not take into account how such a move may affect Intelligence Community dependencies and missions.”
Indeed, with a change in administrations, Colorado is fortunate to have two strong Democratic Senators imploring President Joe Biden and others to right this wrong.
The Department of Defense Inspector General and the United States Government Accountability Office have both undertaken separate investigations into the Trump administration’s decision to move the Space Command.
Just this past week, two retired generals, Air Force Gen. Ed Eberhart, who once led U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs and retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Anderson, who led Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville — yes, that Huntsville — opined in a paper that it would be would take $1.2 billion to move the headquarters and that it would be safer to stay in Colorado Springs as it could reach full mission capability up to seven years faster.
In addition to the investigations and direct appeal to the White House, there will be other opportunities for Colorado’s delegation to lean in legislatively as well. And, they won’t be alone. A growing cascade of other states and leaders are demanding answers too.
The ultimate decision won’t be solved in the short term, but the move isn’t going to happen in the short term either. A final decision is expected in Spring 2023 following an environmental review. If the decision moves forward, the command will be relocated in 2026.
This time let’s hope its done on the merits.
Doug Friednash is a Denver native, a partner with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck and the former chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper.