RUMINT: Huntsville Leads SPACECOM Base Race « Breaking Defense
AFA 2019: A strong and persistent rumor has emerged among those watching closely that Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal, home of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, has come out as the winner in the highly contested and highly political, deliberations about where to headquarter the new Space Command — at least on paper.
The Air Force, as lead agency for the decision, has been mulling six potential sites, newly minted SPACECOM head Gen. John Raymond told reporters on Aug. 29. The six sites are: Buckley AFB, Cheyenne Mountain AFB, Peterson AFB and Schriever AFB in Colorado; Vandenberg AFB in California, and Redstone Arsenal.
Officially there has been no decision; one isn’t expected until mid- or late October at the earliest — most likely after Air Force Secretary nominee Barbara Barrett is confirmed and in place. “The U.S. Air Force has not made a basing decision on the final location of U.S. Space Command Headquarters,” a service spokesman stressed.
That said, the rumor persists that the technical review is complete, and that, contrary to popular assumption, Redstone — not one of the Colorado bases — has emerged as the best fit.
Up to now, smart money has consistently been on one of the Colorado bases, simply because of the preponderance of Air Force Space Command personnel stationed there. AFSPC is headquartered at Peterson, and it serves as SPACECOM’s temporary headquarters. Indeed, one knowledgable observer quipped that Colorado would win because so many Air Force brass own homes there. (We confess that our bet has been on Schriever, given its name-recognition from the annual space war game but also because one downside for Peterson is that it is choc-a-bloc re housing.)
And we cannot stress more strongly that the tagging of Huntsville is a rumor, though the rumor comes from multiple sources with access to and knowledge of military space at senior levels. Basing choices, like the dreaded base closure process, are highly secretive.
An independent team of assessors is chosen to do a review of potential sites, and sworn — as one person who has been involved in one such team put it, “on pain of death” — not to reveal anything about the deliberations. Letting anything about the deliberations slip, much less telling the media, would be a career killing offense, several sources with experience said.
The members of the review team then are steeped in the rules and procedures (which for the Air Force are found in a 76-page document), and provided with a set of both generic and specific requirements on which to judge the candidate locations in order to make an objective decision.
Generic criteria include things like adequate access to affordable housing, and availability of schools and hospitals. Specific requirements revolve around issues like the availability of specialized structures for various aircraft, such as for the F-22 that requires climate-controlled facilities to maintain its specialized coatings. Availability of training facilities often is another key factor.
“The Air Force uses its strategic basing process when making basing decisions,” the Air Force spokesman said in an email. “Each decision takes an ‘enterprise-wide look’ as it evaluates potential basing locations. This deliberate, repeatable, and standardized strategic basing process uses criteria-based analysis and the application of military judgment. The basing process links missions and Combatant Commander requirements to installation attributes, cost considerations, and professional military judgment to identify locations best suited to support any given mission.”
Of course, that is how the process is supposed to work: objective, apolitical. Because, as everyone knows, in reality, basing is always subject to politics. A new base means jobs, jobs, jobs.
Indeed, not a minute after President Donald Trump signed SPACECOM into existence in the Rose Garden, the entire Colorado congressional delegation, plus the governor, released a letter lobbying for their home state. Both of California’s senators, Kamala Harris and Diane Feinstein, along with Rep. Salud Carbajal, have waxed eloquent about Vandenberg’s merit — but they are all Democrats. The powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, represents Alabama, and although he has not been vocal about it, you can bet he is lobbying for Huntsville behind the scenes. Oh, and Rep. Mike Rogers, the Alabama Republican — former chairman and now ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) — is one of the ‘fathers’ of the Space Corps/Force concept, as well as a champion for the creation of SPACECOM.
So, presuming the Huntsville rumor is true, there can still be considerable political judgment and leeway involved in the final decision that could, in the end, tilt the decision elsewhere. Hedge your real estate investments.