Months before voters decide whether to send Cory Gardner back to the U.S. Senate, President Donald Trump has gifted the Republican incumbent with an out-of-this-world claim for his campaign.
On May 15, the Trump administration announced that it had chosen Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs as the "provisional headquarters for U.S. Space Command headquarters until a permanent headquarters location is selected and facilities are ready in approximately six years," according to the Department of Defense announcement.
Landing Space Command, which coordinates defense efforts in space for America's military branches, for even a half-dozen years might seem like a significant win. But the big news came in the next sentence of the announcement: "We anticipate selecting a preferred U.S. Space Command location early next calendar year."
Since Peterson has been the temporary site of Space Command since September 2019, why bother announcing that it's going to continue in that role when the permanent home will be announced a handful of months from now? Maybe because there's an election in the interim.
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“In Colorado we are proud to play a pivotal role in our national defense and military space operations, which is why I pushed the Department of Defense to re-establish the U.S. Space Command here in our state,” Senator Cory Gardner said after the DOD announcement. "With our existing military space infrastructure — whether at Peterson Air Force Base, Buckley Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base, the National Space Defense Center, U.S. Northern Command, or North American Aerospace Defense Command — Colorado is the perfect place for, and now home to, U.S. Space Command.”
But Colorado's odds of landing the permanent headquarters now appear to be diminished, since the administration says it's taking a "revised approach" to making its ultimate choice.
"The revised approach considers the newly established U.S. Space Force emerging organizational structure and analyzes its effects on the limited number of highly specialized personnel and infrastructure required to support both the Space Force and Space Command," the announcement notes. "Additionally, the approach expands the number of locations eligible for consideration to host the permanent U.S. Space Command headquarters, and provides a comprehensive and transparent analysis before selecting a final location." In other words, the DOD wants to take advantage of resource overlap between Space Command and the U.S. Space Force, which is also currently headquartered at Peterson, albeit temporarily.
Space Force, a sixth branch of the U.S. military, will train commandos on how to wage combat in space and ensure that the satellites of this country and its allies are protected from enemies. Although it's slated to remain in Colorado through 2020, eventually the central office of Space Force will be at the Pentagon, beside those of the other military branches, with "critical assets remaining in Colorado Springs," according to Air Force Major David Alpar.
Will Space Command ultimately follow Space Force to the East Coast to make the best use of a "limited number of highly specialized personnel and infrastructure required to support both"? We won't know until early 2021...after the election.
The first version of Space Command, established in 1985, was also housed at Peterson. It was a very Cold War concept, since at the time the U.S. expected to compete with the Soviet Union in space for decades to come. But then the USSR dissolved and, following the September 11 attacks, the U.S. began to shift its military focus to terrorist organizations. In 2002, that Space Command was shut down.
In the years since, U.S. military leadership has again started to view other countries, particularly China and Russia, as potential threats in space. That's what's led to the resurrection of a revamped Space Command in 2019 and the new Space Force in December 2019.
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Gardner isn't the only one who's made a case for space forces to be based in this state. Colorado's entire congressional delegation has lobbied for the headquarters, as has Governor Jared Polis. "This is great news for our state," Polis tweeted on May 15, "and I will continue urging the President and the Air Force to make Colorado the permanent home of U.S. Space Command."
The location that is eventually named the permanent home of Space Command should see a massive influx of funding and jobs.
"The military construction project is going to be approaching a billion dollars," says Reggie Ash, chief defense development officer at the Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Council, "and we’re talking about 1,500 jobs just for the headquarters alone."
The permanent headquarters, that is. For now, Colorado has just a temporary win.