After Complaints from Congress, Air Force Basing Decision for Space Command Under Review

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Gen. John W. "Jay" Raymond Space Operations Command.
Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. "Jay" Raymond established Space Operations Command (SpOC), the U.S. Space Force's first of three Field Commands, during a ceremony at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, Oct. 21, 2020. (U.S. Space Force/Staff Sgt. J.T. Armstrong)

A congressional watchdog organization will review the U.S. Air Force's choice to house U.S. Space Command headquarters at the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.

The Government Accountability Office has accepted a congressional request to look into the issue, Chuck Young, spokesman for the organization, told Military.com on Monday.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., submitted the request in February, his office said in a release.

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"I am very pleased that the Government Accountability Office is conducting an investigation of the methodology behind the headquarters selection process for U.S. Space Command," Lamborn said Friday. "I believe the process the Department of the Air Force used was fundamentally flawed. It is crucial we thoroughly review their entire process to ensure that the decision was both sound and rooted in our national security interests."

In November, the service selected six candidate locations to host SPACECOM. The bases included Redstone; Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska; Patrick Air Force Base, Florida; Port San Antonio at Kelly Field, Texas; and Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.

Then in January, the Air Force chose Redstone as its preferred location for the combatant command, which reactivated in 2019.

The Air Force said the other locations remain reasonable alternatives until an environmental impact analysis on Redstone is complete. The final decision is expected in 2023, according to a release.

But the decision has drawn ire from lawmakers who say the process may have been influenced in unintended ways.

Colorado lawmakers are especially unhappy with the Air Force's decision to move the command, which is temporarily housed at Peterson in Colorado Springs.

Days following the decision, Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper said they didn't see a compelling reason to move SPACECOM when their state already offers a robust, space-focused infrastructure with multiple military bases, including nearby Schriever Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.

"We are deeply disappointed the Trump administration is trying to move Space Command from Colorado to Alabama," Bennet and Hickenlooper said in a joint statement. "We do not believe this decision reflects the best choice, or even a rational choice, for our national security and ability to confront threats in space."

The senators added that Colorado reportedly had been the "Air Force's top choice" for SPACECOM until then-President Donald Trump got involved.

"We are concerned by rumors that the Trump White House influenced this decision for political reasons," they said. "We will work closely with the Colorado delegation to ensure the Biden administration reviews this purported decision. We believe a process based on the merits will keep Space Command in Colorado. There is no role for politics when it comes to our national security."

An Air Force spokesperson told Military.com at the time that while Trump was involved, he did not "override" the decision, as some news outlets reported.

During a typical basing decision process, multiple officials are consulted, including local commanders and those involved in discerning the mission-worthiness of a particular location, the spokesperson explained.

The Redstone location is expected to host roughly 1,400 personnel.

Then-Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, the decision-making authority, was required to keep top brass and other leaders at the Pentagon and the White House informed on the process. She presented her analysis during a meeting with members of the military's National Command Authority, which included Trump, then-Vice President Mike Pence, then-Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Barrett chose Redstone Arsenal following that early January meeting, the spokesperson said.

SPACECOM is responsible for military operations related to space, while the Space Force, the newest military branch, organizes and trains space personnel. Like the other military branches, the Space Force has its headquarters at the Pentagon.

The process to find a location for SPACECOM started in spring 2019, but faced pushback from lawmakers who believed the Defense Department was not being transparent enough about its selection.

In May 2020, the Pentagon directed the Air Force to go back to the drawing board to find its permanent home.

In addition to Redstone, Huntsville, sometimes known by the nickname "The Rocket City," hosts the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the Missile Defense Agency, Army Space and Missile Command, Army Aviation and Missile Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency/Missile and Space Intelligence Center.

Huntsville has been adding even more military and federal entities.

In 2018, the Army selected Redstone Arsenal to bring in two of Army Futures Command’s cross-functional teams: Future Vertical Lift and Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing, according to an Army release.

The Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, which includes the Hypersonics and Directed Energy Project, opened at the base in 2019. The FBI will also use the installation to train "10,000 to 15,000 agents, analysts and staff annually" in the near future, the release said.

Politicians from Alabama have praised the location choice.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., instrumental in bringing SPACECOM to his state, called Huntsville the "right pick for a host of reasons," including "our skilled workforce, proximity to supporting space entities, cost-effectiveness, and quality of life, among other things."

"This long-awaited decision by the Air Force is a true testament to all that Alabama has to offer," he said in January.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: 'Rocket City' Picked as Home of New Space Command Headquarters

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