Two Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence are sending another message to the White House in the fight to keep U.S. Space Command in Colorado: It’s bad for the intelligence community.
The May 11 letter is the latest missive from Capitol Hill as Colorado tries to convince the executive branch to reverse the Trump administration’s preliminary decision in January to move SPACECOM headquarters to Alabama. The command is currently based at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., near a host of other important military space installations.
“We are concerned this decision did not take into account how such a move may affect Intelligence Community dependencies and missions. We therefore request you review the process by which this decision was made, and to ensure IC equities are fully considered,” Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, the panel’s chairman, and Michael Bennet of Colorado wrote to President Joe Biden.
SPACECOM, the combatant command in charge of daily satellite, radar and other space-related operations, is separate from the new Space Force, which supplies the troops and resources that SPACECOM directs.
Military space operations are closely tied to other entities in the intelligence community, such as the National Reconnaissance Office. Those organizations share classified information collected by their satellites and radars to better understand activity on the ground, what and where objects are in space, what they are capable of, and whether they pose a threat.
“Furthermore, we are keenly aware of the threats in space and the criticality of maintaining U.S. superiority in the face of an evolving threat landscape,” the senators wrote. “We have consistently made this a priority in recent years, with careful oversight of dollars spent and an eye toward the allocation of scarce resources among national security priorities.”
They pointed to efforts to modernize the National Space Defense Center, part of SPACECOM, at Peterson that protects U.S. space assets from harm. The senators also worry about losing valuable civilian employees and contractors who opt not to follow SPACECOM to Huntsville.
“It is critical that any decision to move Space Command from its current location take into account the potential effects of such a move on the operational integration between the IC and DoD space communities at NSDC and at other joint sites in Colorado,” Warner and Bennet wrote.
Huntsville, home to the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, beat five other locations to become SPACECOM’s permanent headquarters, with about 1,400 personnel. Earlier in the year, Colorado’s congressional delegation asked Biden to pause the move to Alabama until the new administration reviews the decision.
The Government Accountability Office and Defense Department inspector general are also looking into the matter after Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn petitioned the watchdog agencies for a review of the Air Force’s decision-making process, which critics have said was politically motivated.
The Air Force was in charge of vetting prospective locations to host SPACECOM, based on an area’s ability to support the space mission and to offer a good quality of life for military families.
“Huntsville compared favorably across more of these factors than any other community, providing a large, qualified workforce, quality schools, superior infrastructure capacity and low initial and recurring costs,” the Air Force said when it announced its decision in January. “Additionally, the Huntsville community, with Redstone Arsenal coordination, offered a facility to support the headquarters, at no cost, while the permanent facility is being constructed.”
The service says it will make a final decision on moving SPACECOM to Alabama in spring 2023, following an environmental review. If the plan moves forward, the command will relocate in 2026.
Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.