At the Defense Department's direction, the U.S. Air Force has selected six candidate locations to host the U.S. Space Command headquarters.
The bases include Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska; Patrick Air Force Base, Florida; Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado; Port San Antonio at Kelly Field, Texas; and Redstone Army Airfield, Alabama, the service said in an announcement Thursday.
The Air Force anticipates making a final decision in early 2021.
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"The Department of the Air Force evaluated each location and will now conduct both virtual and on-site visits at each candidate location to assess which location is best suited to host the U.S. Space Command headquarters," officials said in a release. "This assessment will be based on factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support, and costs to the Department of Defense."
In May, the Pentagon directed the Air Force to go back to the drawing board to find a permanent home for its 11th unified combatant command, which was reactivated in August 2019.
SPACECOM came before the establishment of the Space Force, the military's sixth branch, last December. SPACECOM is responsible for military operations related to space, while the Space Force organizes and trains space personnel. Like the other military branches, the Space Force has its headquarters at the Pentagon.
The command location is expected to host roughly 1,400 personnel, spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.
SPACECOM is temporarily housed at Peterson in Colorado Springs, which is also home to a robust, space-focused infrastructure already established in the state with the nearby Schriever Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.
In May 2019, the Air Force said it was weighing four Colorado locations, including Buckley Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain, Peterson and Schriever, to accommodate SPACECOM. Other options included the Army's Redstone Arsenal and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. A decision was originally due in summer 2019.
However, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper disclosed in March that some lawmakers whose states had petitioned the DoD to host SPACECOM felt the process was not transparent enough.
"During my talks on the Hill prior to my nomination, particularly after my hearing here, I visited the House and heard from members on both sides of the aisle that they thought the process that had been run was unfair and not transparent," he said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing March 4. "So I directed at that time that we pause in place ... [and] we directed it be revisited and a different approach be taken."
The result was a process for bases to "nominate themselves as potential candidate locations by following the process outlined in a letter from the Department of the Air Force to the nation's governors, which includes a nomination form and screening and evaluation criteria," the service said in May.
Only Peterson and the Army's Redstone Army Airfield remain as contenders from the original list.
Ahead of Space Command's reactivation, nearly a dozen elected officials, including President Donald Trump, tried to petition the DoD to place it in Florida.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said at the time he would formally ask the president to locate the department's unified combatant command for space at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
"I am formally sending a request to @realDonaldTrump to place the headquarters for the Space Force Combatant Command here in Florida @NASAKennedy in Cape Canaveral," he tweeted Feb. 19, 2019.
In a letter to then-acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Republican Reps. Michael Waltz and Bill Posey, members of the House Armed Services Committee, and 11 other Florida lawmakers said their state remains "the epicenter of America's space program," Stars and Stripes reported at the time.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.
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