After a seventeen-year absence, U.S. Space Command may finally return to Colorado.
A bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers sent a letter on March 7 to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan urging him to re-establish Space Command in Colorado, where it was headquartered in Colorado Springs from 1985 to 2002.
It's important to note that Space Command is not the United States Space Force, the space warfare military branch proposed by Donald Trump that's expected to cost some $800 million over the next five years to launch (no pun intended).
Signed by seven House representatives, Colorado's two senators and Governor Jared Polis, the letter came after Vice President Mike Pence announced during a December 2018 speech that the U.S. would be reintroducing Space Command, making it the eleventh combatant command in the U.S. military. Combatant commands combine multiple branches of the military to help focus their efforts in a certain region, like Africa Command, or on a certain strategic area, like Transportation Command.
Space Command was established in Colorado to "control all satellites, shuttle flights and future space systems dedicated to military missions," according to the Chicago Tribune. The Reagan administration also planned for Space Command to be the control center for the space aspect of the Star Wars missile defense system, which never actually came to fruition.
The new Space Command won't stray far from its predecessor.
In Pence's speech, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, he said that U.S. 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."
In the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. dissolved Space Command and sent elements of it to Strategic Command, which is located in Nebraska. In its place, the U.S. established Northern Command, which focuses on homeland security.
But the U.S. is shifting its focus from non-state actors, like Al Qaeda and ISIS, back to rival countries. "The growing threat to U.S. and allied systems from countries like Russia and China requires the United States to think differently about how it operates in space. 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.
And Colorado's politicos argue Space Command would be a natural fit in a state that is already on the forefront of the military-space field.
"The support in Colorado’s communities for national defense and intelligence space missions is second to none. 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," the letter states.
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But Space Command's return to Colorado won't be without challenges. As The Hill reported in February, Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, is asking the Trump administration to establish Space Command in that state, which he refers to as the "world’s premier gateway to space."
Congresswoman Diana DeGette boasts Colorado's workforce as a main reason the Command should return.
"Colorado’s re-emergence as the preferred location for our nation’s space industry is not by accident — and is, in large part, due to the highly-skilled workforce we have available here. There are several reasons why the first U.S. Space Command was based here in Colorado, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be based here again," says DeGette.