Colorado Springs Passed Over As Permanent Home Of Space Command

Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo
President Donald Trump watches with Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary Mark Esper as the flag for U.S. space Command is unfurled as Trump announces the establishment of the U.S. Space Command in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.

Updated 2:48 p.m.

The U.S. Space Command will likely call Alabama its permanent home — and not Colorado. 

Petersen Air Force Base in Colorado Springs was named the temporary headquarters for the combatant command in May 2019, and is set to remain the home for at least a few more years, but a decision announced Wednesday signals it will not stay here beyond that time.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced that the Air Force has selected Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal as the "preferred location" Wednesday afternoon.

"I couldn’t be more pleased to learn that Alabama will be the new home to the United States Space Command!" Ivey said in a statement on Twitter.

“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,” Ivey added. “The bottom line is simple, the Redstone Region is the most natural choice to become home to such an important mission for our country.”

The Air Force confirmed the selection, saying the Secretary of the Air Force, on behalf of the Office of Secretary of Defense, “selected Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama, as the preferred location for the U.S. Space Command Headquarters.”

The move is widely seen as political, and not practical, among Colorado's local and state leaders from both political parties.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said, "It is not in the interest of national security and the American taxpayer to move Space Command." Suthers said the city offered up about $130 million in public and private sector incentives and 1500 acres of city-owned land to lure the command.

The city's economic development chief Dirk Draper pointed the finger directly at President Trump. Draper said "sources inside the Air Force" told city officials that Colorado Springs was the military's leading choice, and that the decision to go with Alabama was an effort to reward a state and political leaders with close ties to the president.

"We watched the events of last week and what's occurring this week and recognize that if ever there was a trumped up decision, this feels like one," Draper said, finishing with a dramatic pause, referring to Republican efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

In a statement, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis called the decision to pick Alabama “misguided” and said Colorado's aerospace security, military heritage, and quality of life makes it the “epicenter of national security space and the only permanent home for U.S. Space Command.”

“Reports that the in-depth military process found Colorado Springs to be the best location for military readiness and cost and recommended Colorado to the President only to be overruled for politically motivated reasons are deeply concerning,” Polis added.

Suthers asked that the Biden administration and Congress get to the bottom of what exactly the Air Force recommended, and what Trump's role was in the decision announced Wednesday.

In a joint statement, Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper pledged to see the decision revisited.

"We will work closely with the Colorado delegation to ensure the Biden Administration reviews this purported decision. We believe a process based on the merits will keep Space Command in Colorado. There is no role for politics when it comes to our national security," Bennet and Hickenlooper said in a statement.

On Wednesday the Air Force said the other finalist cities, including Colorado Springs, remain “reasonable alternative locations” for Space Command. A final decision is expected in the spring of 2023, pending the results of an environmental impact study.

“I am disappointed by the horrendous decision to rip U.S. Space Command out of its home in Colorado Springs and move it to a new location,” said Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, who represents Colorado Springs and, like the rest of the Colorado Congressional delegation, had advocated that the temporary home be made permanent.

Lamborn told CPR's Colorado Matters in December that making Space Command permanent in Colorado Springs would mean a significant economic boost. He said there are currently 250 aerospace and defense companies in the Pikes Peak region, accounting for more than 100,000 employees and $7 billion of annual revenue. In the interview Lamborn also acknowledged that some other states on the finalist list could be more politically appealing, particularly if voters those states supported President Trump's reelection. Trump had dangled the idea of permanently locating Space Command in Colorado at a campaign rally last year.

“Moving a critical institution like Space Command for political reasons unrelated to national security would be foolish at the best of times,” Lamborn said in a statement. “This decision was not based on what is best for America’s national interests. For the good our of nation, I will fight this proposed move.”

Lamborn has written to President-elect Joe Biden asking him to reverse the decision.

Colorado Springs was considered the favorite of the six finalists announced. At one point in the search, Colorado had four bases in contention, but the Air Force decided to start the search from scratch in March 2020.

This is a developing story that will be updated.