The Pentagon’s inspector general’s office said Tuesday that it believes air force officials followed the law and policies when choosing Alabama as the likely permanent home of the U.S. space command headquarters.
But the rules themselves may not have led to the most logical outcome for the key base decision, the observer suggested.
His a recently published investigation report shows a tug of war in the Ministry of Defense, pitting a city favored by the military space agency against one that ranks higher in official estimates.
The Redstone Army Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, performed better in an Air Force-led search for a site that began in 2018, but the service briefly listed Colorado Springs, Colorado, as the preferred location for SPACECOM’s headquarters after military leaders expressed concerns about Alabama.
Huntsville, NASA’s headquarters and home of the Missile Defense Agency, was identified as a possible alternative to Colorado Springs in a January 10, 2021 chart summarizing the Air Force’s considerations.
Two days later, the revised chart was “in line with the ranking … which identifies Huntsville, Alabama, as the preferred permanent host location for USSPACECOM’s headquarters,” the 120-page partially revised report said.
The race ended on January 13, the last days of the Trump administration, when then-Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett announced that SPACECOM would move to Redstone Arsenal.
“Huntsville compares favorably for more of these factors than any other community, providing a large, skilled workforce, quality schools, excellent infrastructure capacity and low start-up and recurring costs,” the service said at the time.
The inspector general’s verdict ends a 15-month trial that some had hoped to reverse, a choice he believes was tainted by then-President Donald Trump for political purposes following the loss of the 2020 presidential election.
The former president later helped foster those beliefs when, in August 2021, he said he “independently” chose to move US space command from Colorado to Alabama.
The Air Force decision angered Colorado lawmakers and its business community, who have touted Colorado Springs’ status as a longtime center for military space operations and industry, as well as SPACECOM’s current headquarters. They called for a number of investigations by the defense minister, the inspector general of the defense ministry and the government’s accountability service in the baseing process.
“Colorado is the most strategic choice for a permanent home of space command,” Senator Michael Bennett, D-Colo, said in March. “We must not waste time, money or resources moving the space command from Colorado to Alabama.
Construction of the new Huntsville plant is scheduled to begin in 2023, pending an environmental study expected to be completed next spring.
Established in August 2019, the command is responsible for military space operations, including communications, satellites and radars for gathering intelligence and warning about missiles, missile launches and more. SPACECOM has the troops and resources it receives from military services, largely concentrated in the nascent space force.
The Air Force has been tasked with choosing a home for the command, as it owns most of the Pentagon’s military space assets.
But the IG expressed many concerns about improper Air Force records, possibly misreporting factors such as childcare and housing affordability, and a lack of formal rules and processes for choosing where to base combat teams – the military organizations that run day-to-day operations. regions around the world and for certain missions such as space and cyber operations.
“The staff of the Base Office has not kept, created or requested the creation of working documents that would allow the validation of the decision to base action,” said IG. Instead, the office is only required to keep a record of Huntsville’s election.
The uneven path to choosing a plant has lasted for more than three years.
In May 2019, the Air Force identified the Buckley Space Forces, Peterson SFB, Schriever SFB and the Cheyenne Mountain Space Station, Colorado; Redstone Arsenal; and Vandenberg SFB, California, as its ideal candidates for SPACECOM accommodation. Each installation is already part of the military space enterprise.
SPACECOM was officially established three months later in August 2019. But the Department of Defense restarted the founding process in March 2020 amid congressional concerns about favoritism and began accepting self-nominations from locations in the United States.
The list of candidates then changed to include Peterson SFB; Redstone Arsenal; Patrick SFB, Florida; Offutt AFB, Nebraska; Kurtland AFB, New Mexico; and the joint base of San Antonio, Texas. These six options were assessed according to their ability to carry out the mission, the physical capacity of their installation, the surrounding community and the cost.
“The two most important criteria used to determine the permanent location of the USSPACECOM headquarters are the availability of skilled labor and proximity to mutually supported space objects,” the service said.
Redstone Arsenal was first on the list of top-ranked places as of November 6, 2020, according to an IG report included in the IG report. Each result was edited.
After Air Force personnel toured the six candidates and decided how each was compared on more than 20 criteria, Huntsville again topped the overall installation rankings.
The IG report said it could not understand how the BBC’s color-coded score ranked highest in the Huntsville, and noted that investigators could guarantee the accuracy of only eight of the 21 criteria used in the chart.
Critics say simply comparing the cost of living and working in Colorado with cheaper Alabama ignores many of the more important benefits to the military mission.
In early January 2021, Air Force personnel shared their findings with senior officials of the Air Force, Space Forces and the Ministry of Defense. After these discussions and before Trump’s briefing, the BBC added another factor: How soon can the permanent headquarters be ready and how will this affect full-scale military space operations?
The Authority said that while SPACECOM commanders and the four-star space force were concerned about the results of the selection process, no evidence had been provided to the base office that the headquarters would be fully operational in one city rather than another. The Air Force has estimated that the cornerstone will arrive in fiscal 2025.
“The ranking of Colorado Springs, Colorado as the preferred permanent host location of USSPACECOM’s headquarters in the January 10, 2021 decision matrix was not supported,” IG added.
On January 10, 2021, senior air and military officials met again to prepare for a meeting the next day with Trump on the decision to base.
The discussion was attended by Barrett and Acting Deputy Secretary of State Sean Manasco, Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Charles “CQ” Brown Jr., Chief of Space Forces General Jay Raymond, SPACECOM Army Chief General James James Dickin . The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Hayten, and the then Chief of the Air Force, John Henderson, and his chief deputy.
Pentagon leaders eventually presented the chart of criteria recommending Colorado Springs, not Huntsville, to the White House on January 11, 2021.
Barrett “refused to discuss the details of the meeting with the president in detail,” IG said. “Notes or transcripts… were not available for review.”
The next day, Barrett signed a new note from the BBC’s installation branch, recommending Huntsville as his preferred headquarters instead, and the service publicly announced its election on January 13, 2021.
Although it supported the BBC’s decision, IG proposed a number of changes to improve future site searches:
- The Minister of Defense must establish policies and procedures for selecting the location of the combat command;
- The Secretary of Defense must reconsider the four-star generals’ concerns about obstructing military space operations if SPACECOM leaves Colorado Springs;
- The Secretary of the Air Force must remind the Base Service of its record-keeping requirements; and
- The Secretary of the Air Force must reconsider whether the Base Office can substantiate its claim that Huntsville has met its needs for child care, affordable housing and support in the area for military personnel and veterans.
All four recommendations remain open pending further action.
GAO’s own report on SPACECOM’s future location is in its final stages and should be completed “in the coming months,” a spokesman for the Federal Monitoring Agency said on April 12th.
The two Colorado senators and a couple of congressmen from two parties who were briefed on the GAO project last month did not sound optimistic about the outcome.
“After reviewing the draft GAO report, we are even more concerned about the dubious decision to move US space command from Colorado to Alabama,” they wrote.
Rachel Cohen joined the Air Force Times as a senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, Frederick News-Post (MD), Washington Post and others.