COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.— As the U.S. Air Force whittles down potential locations for the headquarters of the new U.S. Space Command, Colorado is emerging as an early front-runner — at least according to an Air Force memo obtained by CNN last Friday.
The Air Force isn’t disputing the validity of the CNN report, which names four Colorado bases — Buckley Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Peterson Air Force Base and Schriever Air Force Base — as potential locations of the command, as well as the Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Alabama and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
However, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said that the document was an “early draft,” raising the possibility that other candidate bases could be added to the mix later.
“No candidate basing lists have been sent to the Secretary of the Air Force for consideration,” she said in a statement.
That could be good news for states like Florida and Louisiana, where lawmakers are making a big pitch for the honors of hosting the new command.
Pentagon leaders such as acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein have repeatedly called the establishment of USSPACECOM the most important of the Trump administration’s three-pronged plan to overhaul the military space enterprise. Other proposed actions include the creation of new service branch called the Space Force and a new space technology acquisition node known as the Space Development Agency.
Unlike the creation of the Space Force, the president does not need congressional approval to create a new unified combatant command like USSPACECOM. However, the Senate is responsible for confirming Air Force Space Command chief Gen. Jay Raymond, nominated to take the reins of the new command, and approving the $83.8 million sum requested for fiscal 2020 to stand up operations and build a headquarters.
According to the CNN report, the Air Force evaluated cost, proximity to existing organizations that will become part of USSPACECOM, connectivity to communications and access to a C-17 capable airfield as key criteria for potential headquarters locations.
New military bases bring jobs and economic development, and so lawmakers with space facilities already in their district are hungry to add U.S. Space Command to the mix — especially as it remains unclear how the proposed establishment of Space Force and SDA could affect other space organizations.
Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham has proposed Louisiana as a possible home for USSPACECOM, citing the state’s work with NASA and its proximity to Barksdale Air Force Base, which is home to Air Force Global Strike Command.
“Should you select Louisiana as the headquarters for Space Command, you can rest assured that you will have picked a state that is open for investment and one that has unique qualities ideally suited to support Space Command’s growth and development,” Abraham wrote in a March 12 letter to President Donald Trump.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also made a similar pitch for his home state in March, saying it makes sense to have the new command next to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, according to a report by KHOU 11.
But the Florida delegation has carried out the most aggressive campaign to bring Space Command to their state. In a December letter to then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio pressed Pentagon leaders to base USSPACECOM in Florida, currently the home of the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
“Given the extensive history the State of Florida has as the U.S. gateway to the stars, it is only fitting that Florida be home to USSPACECOM,” Rubio wrote.
Todd Harrison, an aerospace analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said lawmakers never stood a chance of persuading the Pentagon to base Space Command in Florida.
“The Florida folks, I don't know what they were thinking to think that they could get Space Command located there. They don't have any facilities that are appropriate for it,” he said.
So which bases do stand a chance of becoming the home of USSPACECOM?
Harrison said Peterson and Schriever are natural candidates, or even Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, which is home to U.S. Strategic Command.
“But Louisiana? Texas? Florida? No,” Harrison said.
“You really want to look [at] where are they flying satellites out of. Where are they doing the command-and-control kind of operations? That’s, you know, that’s the nucleus of what the Space Command will be doing,” he said. “You don’t want to put it somewhere where you’re going to have to build, like, all new facilities. You want to be able to fall in on existing facilities that already have the right infrastructure.”
One curious note is the inclusion of Redstone Arsenal on the Air Force’s unofficial shortlist. The Army base is the only installation seemingly under consideration that is not owned and operated by the Air Force. It is also home to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Army Aviation and Missile Command, and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
Joe Gould in Washington and Aaron Mehta in Colorado Springs, Colo., contributed to this report.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.