There is a growing consensus in Washington that 2021 will see a flattening of U.S. defense spending in fiscal 2022 and beyond. This is even more likely under the incoming Biden administration, despite consistent testimony by our military leaders that we need 3-5 percent real growth in the defense budget to maintain our competitive edge over our near-peer competitors, Russia and China. Tough choices will have to be made, but the priority in our reorientation toward great power competition should be shoring up American space dominance. Some of our nation’s most experienced space war fighters have explained why this is the case.
The goal of reorganizing national security space was always to move quickly, keep costs low and eliminate stifling bureaucracy. This is so we can provide our space war fighters the increased authorities and resources needed to maintain our space dominance. As Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, the Space Force’s chief of space operations, said last month, Space Force and Space Command have to stay “lean, agile and fast.”
I have had the privilege of being a part of this grand initiative since its beginning, when a bipartisan effort at reforming our national security space enterprise was launched by the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee in 2016. I helped fight for these reforms, led by Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., partly because I knew our country had the necessary personnel and infrastructure already — it is in Colorado Springs and always has been. We simply needed as a country to get administrative roadblocks out of the way to enable our space professionals to excel.
From 1985 until 2002, U.S. Space Command’s headquarters was in Colorado Springs. Since August 2019, it is back in Colorado Springs on a provisional basis. Even when the space war-fighting function fell under U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Nebraska, from 2002-2019, the men and women executing the mission remained in Colorado. As such, America’s space war-fighting ecosystem has grown up along the Front Range of Colorado. Taxpayers have invested billions of dollars into Colorado Springs, much of which would be squandered if USSPACECOM is uprooted.
In the past 15 years, over $350 million has been spent by the Department of Defense on space-specific infrastructure in Colorado. This does not account for the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars invested annually into space-related operations and maintenance or research and development funds executed in Colorado Springs. USSPACECOM and U.S. Northern Command on Peterson Air Force Base, and the National Space Defense Center and the Missile Defense Integration and Operations Center on Schriever Air Force Base, account for a half-billion dollars of the DoD’s budget each year.
While other communities may lay claim to various space industry activities such as launch or research and development, Colorado Springs is where the space war-fighting mission takes place. Uniformed men and women, and their counterparts in the intelligence community, sit side by side 24/7/365, operating our space assets and responding to threats.
Joint Task Force-Space Defense, the action arm of USSPACECOM, works out of the National Space Defense Center. This state-of-the-art facility is supported by a host of civilian contractors and DoD civilian employees working on special access programs and systems at the highest levels of classification within the defense and intelligence communities.
Modern headquarters infrastructure for a combatant command is expensive. The most recent example, USSTRATCOM’s new $1.3 billion headquarters facility in Omaha, was completed last year after years of delays caused by flooding and a ballooning budget. The move to a new headquarters building alone cost $617 million. This demonstrates the money, time and work it will take to get a combatant command up and running at a new location. There will be some new construction costs if Space Command remains at Peterson Air Force Base, but not as much as starting from scratch.
More importantly, Colorado Springs can handle and is handling the mission right now. When USSPACECOM was reactivated, it was placed in Colorado Springs because that’s where the infrastructure that our space war fighters need to succeed exists right now. That’s because the threat to our space assets exists right now.
USSPACECOM just announced that Russia conducted a test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile. This is Moscow’s second test of an anti-satellite weapon in 2020. Meanwhile, China is much more secretive about its growing space capabilities. Its increasing activity on the moon concerns DoD officials, given its strategic location as the ultimate high ground.
Since the Gulf War, when we demonstrated how powerful our space-supported modern military can be, unfriendly regimes have pursued counter-space capabilities to neutralize our advantages. It’s imperative we prevent this from happening.
It is not just our military which relies on U.S. space assets — the entire global financial system relies on the American GPS constellation’s timing signal to provide an ultraprecise time stamp on every electronic financial transaction. GPS locating, used for countless applications, also depends on our satellites. Our nation simply does not have time to fiddle around with moving USSPACECOM. There is no strategic value in moving it when it is working superbly now. Every defense dollar spent relocating USSPACECOM is one dollar not available to enhance our space war-fighting capabilities.
To quote my friend and colleague on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Jim Cooper: “I am shocked by the announcement of a billion-dollar competition for a new U.S. Space Command headquarters. This is worse than a boondoggle; it’s a moondoggle.”
Reps. Cooper and Mike Rogers, the current chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee and the incoming ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, respectively, worked together to establish “a lean and agile organization that repurposed Air Force funds to protect U.S. assets in space.” This is exactly what we accomplished and why I was glad to join them in this vital effort.
For all these reasons, it is in our nation’s fiscal and security interests to keep U.S. Space Command in its true home — Colorado Springs.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.