Thought Leadership

Politics should not determine location for US Space Command

Space is the next frontier and the most critical domain for near-peer competition with Russia and China.

As a former member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee, I believe that the integrated mission of the U.S. Space Command is critical to our future security.

Like all centralized military commands, Space needs a headquarters location, and last year the U.S. Air Force embarked on a metrics-based process to determine which state would best suit the mission. Unfortunately, on the way out the door — and with politics, not process in mind — it appears the outgoing secretary of the Air Force rushed to a decision to locate the new U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) headquarters in Alabama. Just days before leaving office, she may have ignored the six-month merit-based process and deprived the incoming administration the opportunity to review and make the decision.

Unfortunately, this would not be the first time I have seen a secretary of the Air Force potentially make a decision based on politics, not process. In fact, the people in that job have a history of choosing where to headquarter new commands without the mission, war fighter and taxpayer in mind. They ignore the site selection criteria they themselves design. I have seen this firsthand.

Between 2008-2009, the Department of Defense executed a six-month merit-based selection process to find a new location for the new U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command headquarters. The new command centralized strategic deterrence, global strike and combat support. It was projected to generate 900 jobs.

Much like the recent U.S. Space Command process, six locations were selected as finalists for the Global Strike Command headquarters, with my home state’s Offutt Air Force base in Bellevue, Nebraska, among them.

Much like the recent U.S. Space Command process, site surveys were performed with a previously determined and public merit-based process leveraging a clear point system. The 100-point process measured nuclear mission synergies (35 points), facilities and infrastructure (20 points), support capacity (15 points), transportation and access (15 points), communication and bandwidth (10 points) and security (5 points).

Much like the recent U.S. Space Command process, there was a lack of transparency around the final decision to locate the Global Strike Command headquarters in Louisiana, over Nebraska. It was not until a briefing following the 2009 Global Strike decision that we learned that Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska scored 89 out of 100 points. The nearest competitor only had 81. It turns out, the point system was not the deciding metric. Instead, it was a political decision.

Needless to say, I was, and I continue to be, enraged by this 2009 decision. I had choice words with the then U.S. Air Force secretary, not just as an advocate for Nebraska, but with a strong belief that the site selection criteria should be unbiased and metric based, and politics should not play a role.

Over a decade later, I fear the same politically motivated choices are guiding major military decisions and it must stop.

We need transparency on the Space Command decision, and I ask that the administration reopen, review and assure that this decision is made with the mission, war fighter and taxpayer in mind.

Ben Nelson, a U.S. senator from Nebraska from 2001-2013, also served as the 37th governor of Nebraska.

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