Air Force Picks Alabama to Host Space Command HQ
Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal is the preferred new home of U.S. Space Command, the Air Force said Jan. 13, signaling the Pentagon is on board with a major move from the longtime center of military space operations in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Redstone is a key Army installation in Huntsville, a defense-heavy area known as “Rocket City” for its involvement with NASA. After the Air Force vetted several cities as prospective SPACECOM headquarters locations, it said the city scores highest on “factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support, and costs to the Department of Defense,” the service said in a release.
“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,” the Air Force said. “Redstone Arsenal offered a facility to support the headquarters, at no cost, while the permanent facility is being constructed.”
While the Department of the Air Force plans to make its final decision in spring 2023, the announcement means Redstone has only to pass an environmental review to formally secure SPACECOM HQ.
SPACECOM was created in August 2019 to manage daily operations of the satellites, radars, and other space-related assets that enable communications, track missile launches, and more.
Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., is expected to remain as the provisional headquarters for the Defense Department’s newest combatant command until 2026. It’s unclear how the organization will handle moving its employees across the country as Redstone Arsenal becomes equipped to welcome them.
Redstone won out despite the deep-seated space expertise in the Colorado Springs area, which also features Space Force headquarters at Peterson, Schriever Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and the Army’s Fort Carson.
“One concern was that Peterson has taken on several additional missions in recent years and is filling up,” POLITICO reported.
The Air Force did not state the comparative cost of moving SPACECOM to Alabama and building new facilities versus keeping the enterprise in Colorado. Some question whether the decision is politically motivated and fiscally sound.
“This will be a colossal waste of money,” said Todd Harrison, an aerospace and defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I hope it is one of the first things the new Pentagon leadership will reexamine once they are in place.”
Twenty-four states pitched their municipalities as ideal spots for the command of around 1,500 employees, after the Pentagon restarted its nationwide search to broaden its options. The military will keep Albuquerque, N.M.; Bellevue, Neb.; Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla.; San Antonio, Texas; and Colorado Springs open as alternatives.
Alabama saw $16 billion in defense spending in fiscal 2019, the ninth-highest in the nation, the Defense Department said Jan. 13. Its military interests are defended by powerful lawmakers including Republicans Sen. Richard Shelby, head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Mike Rogers, the new top GOP member on the House Armed Services Committee.
Shelby praised the decision, noting that Redstone’s industrial base is comprised of more than 400 aerospace and defense technology companies located in the “second-largest research park in the country.”
“Our state has long provided exceptional support for our military and their families as well as a rich and storied history when it comes to space exploration,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) added. “This combination only enhances the outstanding relationships with the 65 diverse federal agencies on Redstone Arsenal, not to mention the growing presence of the FBI and other federal installations.”
POLITICO said the Air Force chose Huntsville in consultation with the White House, senior military commanders, congressional defense committees, and others.
“It was a deliberative, informative discussion, everybody in the room got to express their thoughts and their recommendations,” John W. Henderson, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment, and energy, told the publication. “I don’t feel like anything was inappropriately pushed in our direction.”