Colorado Congressmen Jockeying Over Where to House U.S. Space Command

Democrats and Republicans from around the state came together last month to lobby for Space Command to be headquartered in Colorado. But with the list of finalists for hosting the newest military initiative now whittled down to the single digits, two of the state's congressmen are competing for the grand prize of hosting the command, which would create jobs and boost the economies of their districts.

"Re-establishing SPACECOM in Colorado Springs is the only serious option for providing the desired capability on the shortest, most cost-effective timeline," Congressman Doug Lamborn wrote in an op-ed in SpaceNews on April 23. Colorado Springs, part of Lamborn's district, includes three of the bases being considered for Space Command.

Lamborn is trying to beat out Congressman Jason Crow, who represents Aurora, home of Buckley Air Force Base, another finalist for Space Command.

"I, of course, think Buckley is the ideal place. We have the infrastructure, the deep pool of talented workers, the aerospace and space economy and private industry," Crow says, before boosting Aurora's high quality of life.

Not to be confused with the U.S. Space Force, the sci-fi-esque space military branch that President Donald Trump wants to create in the coming years, Space Command will combine multiple branches of the military to focus on space. It would be the eleventh combatant command, joining the U.S.'s other commands for certain regions, like Africa Command, or for certain strategic areas, like Transportation Command.

Colorado Springs hosted the original Space Command from its birth in 1985 until it dissolved in 2002, in the aftermath of 9/11. It was established to "control all satellites, shuttle flights and future space systems dedicated to military missions," according to the Chicago Tribune. The Reagan administration also envisioned Space Command as the control center for the so-called Star Wars missile defense system, which turned out to be a dud.

When it ended, parts of Space Command went to Strategic Command in Nebraska. Around the same time, the U.S. created Northern Command, which focuses on homeland security.

But times — and military priorities — have changed. The U.S. is pivoting from focusing on threats like ISIS and Al-Qaeda back to adversaries like Russia and China, and needs to start thinking about military capabilities in space, experts say. "Re-establishing U.S. Space Command will help the United States respond effectively to that challenge," wrote Frank A. Rose, a senior fellow for security and strategy in the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution, in a January 7 op-ed.

The Air Force has narrowed down its list of possible sites for housing Space Command to six bases. Aside from Buckley and the three bases in Colorado Springs — Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Peterson Air Force Base and Schriever Air Force Base — locations in California and Alabama are also on the list, according to CNN. Trump has already nominated John Raymond, an Air Force general who serves at Peterson, as the leader of the nation's newest combatant command, which will function much like its predecessor.

"[Space Command] will establish unified control over all our military space operations...integrate space capabilities across all branches of the military...[and] develop the space doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures that will enable our warfighters to defend our nation in this new era," Vice President Mike Pence said in a December 2018 speech.

In his pitch to Heather Wilson, secretary of the Air Force, Crow wrote that Buckley already plays a prominent role in the aerospace defense world and houses thousands of intelligence personnel.

Crow also points to the fact that he sits on the House Armed Services Committee and is the only combat veteran in Colorado's congressional delegation.

"Having served, I understand the value of the military, what they do, how operations work. I understand the threats in a very personal way that our country faces in the 21st century and how to meet those threats," Crow says.

Lamborn is touting the work he's doing in his district to potentially house Space Command. The congressman says he has been meeting with Governor Jared Polis to expand Colorado State Highway 94, which links Schriever to central Colorado Springs.

"During my productive meeting with Governor Polis, he pledged to fully support the return of U.S. Space Command to Colorado fully and prioritized Highway 94 with the Colorado Department of Transportation. Finally widening and modernizing Highway 94 would be a tremendous improvement to our defense infrastructure. I commend the governor’s efforts and look forward to continuing to work with him on moving this initiative forward," Lamborn said in a statement on April 22.

If Space Command 2.0 does end up in Colorado, it would be a natural fit, say its local fans.

"The support in Colorado’s communities for national defense and intelligence space missions is second to none," a bipartisan Colorado delegation wrote in March. "Our state ranks first in the nation in its concentration of aerospace jobs, with 27,190 aerospace jobs in the private sector and 28,140 military personnel working directly on space. With a payroll of over $3.5 billion, Colorado also has the nation’s largest aerospace economy on a per capita basis."