When former President Donald Trump’s administration announced it would move U.S. Space Command to Alabama instead of keeping it in Colorado, it took many in the Centennial State — lawmakers, military leaders and businesses alike — by surprise.
Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs was considered to be a shoo-in for the command’s permanent headquarters.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said the city had offered $130 million in incentives to keep the command. "It is not in the interest of national security and the American taxpayer to move Space Command," he said.
Gov. Jared Polis called the decision to move it to Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, “misguided.”
Colorado’s Congressional delegation even presented a united front by requesting the Biden administration overturn Trump’s decision.
“Sgnificant evidence exists that the process was neither fair nor impartial and that President Trump’s political considerations influenced the final decision,” said a letter signed by the state’s two senators and seven representatives. It goes on to describe the unusual selection process used in naming the final headquarters, after an initial process that selected Peterson in 2019 was deemed “unfair,” by former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
So is the decision to move Space Command’s headquarters final? It remains to be seen, but at least some Colorado leaders think the Alabama decision could be reversed.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, for one, expects the decision will be revisited.
“Colorado by any measure was the number one choice for the Air Force for a lot of different reasons — all of the assets we have here in terms of our education system, the number of different contractors that we have here, plus our defense posture that we have, especially in Colorado Springs.”
Similarly, Rep. Jason Crow said he has spoken with newly installed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about the process that led to the decision.
"I actually raised this issue with him and he told me that he would be looking into it and they would take a hard look at the process, and restart it if that's what the facts show," Crow told CPR News’ Colorado Matters. "We can't have national security and defense decisions being made based on politics. That sets a terrible precedent. It's bad for our national security, it's bad for our troops. So we're going to do what's necessary to shine a light on this process."
Redstone Arsenal runs a number of aerospace missions, including the Missile Defense Agency and the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.
“The Redstone site offers the Department of Defense the lowest cost option with superior regional capabilities, capacity and quality of life,” said the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce. “We look forward to working with Space Command to make this transition as seamless as possible.”
Many dispute the notion that relocating the command to Alabama would save the Department of Defense money — the new site would require billions of dollars in infrastructure spending to recreate what already exists in Colorado Springs, according to the Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Corporation.
However, The Colorado Springs Gazette reports housing costs and the cost of living in Huntsville are lower than in the Pikes Peak Region. Their analysis says that would amount to about $5 million in increased Defense Department spending if the Space Command remains in Colorado Springs.
Colorado’s elected leaders in Washington say President Joe Biden could retract the decision to award the command to Huntsville just as easily as Trump made his selection on Jan. 13. Also, an Air Force press release announcing the new headquarters left some wiggle room for such a change of direction, saying other sites, including Peterson, “remain reasonable alternative locations.”
Austin said during his confirmation hearing that he would take a closer look into the Space Command headquarters decision for evidence of political interference.
Whatever happens, Peterson will continue to host the command on an interim basis until 2026 to give Redstone time to construct the infrastructure needed to take over the mission.
Reggie Ash, chief defense development officer with the Colorado Springs Chamber, said he did not think the regional economy would suffer too much from the uncertainty about the eventual headquarters.
“We're strong at this point, and I don't believe that any of our companies are going to be leaving,” Ash said. Colorado is the home to hundreds of aerospace companies, many of which are directly tied to the state’s military missions.
The Air Force said Redstone Arsenal still needs to pass a required environmental impact analysis to receive the command, pushing the absolute final decision on the headquarters location out to at least 2023.
Correction, 1/28/2021: Red Stone Arsenal was one of two non-Colorado base finalists in the initial round of finalists for the Space Command headquarters, along with Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. A previous version of this story incorrectly identified how many non-Colorado bases were finalists in the initial finalist round.