U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, commander U.S. Space Command, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 20 in Washington, D.C. (Defense Department Photo)

No one expected U.S. Space Command's Gen. James Dickinson to bare his soul about the plan to move his headquarters to Alabama during congressional hearings over the past week.

But the general's careful clipped answers to House and Senate committees were truthful. And his general lack of enthusiasm for the move was apparent. And that may be enough to scuttle Redstone Arsenal's hopes.

Out of the gate in the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Dickinson told lawmakers he doesn't know how much the move will cost. Congress is rightfully leery of handing the Pentagon a blank check. New headquarters buildings are notoriously expensive, with most estimates topping $1 billion.

And with belt-tightening ahead for Congress as it shuffles more cash to domestic programs, new blank checks are out of fashion.

The second blow for the program came in the Senate, too, when lawmakers asked Dickinson about how many of the command's civilian employees -- 60 percent of its workforce -- would follow it to Alabama.

At a time when Dickinson needs civilians to help fend off increasingly aggressive efforts to counter American advantages in space from Russia and China, the general didn't have an answer. He said he just didn't know how many might follow.

The Missile Defense Agency was moved to Alabama from Virginia 15 years ago. Eighty percent of its civilian workers stayed behind.

That could cripple Space Command at a time when its mission is becoming more complex and more critical to America, which needs military satellites to fight and win wars and relies on civilian satellites to keep its tech-heavy economy humming.

Dickinson told lawmakers he would ponder incentives for workers to move, but had no guarantees that those would work any better than similar incentives offered by the Missile Defense Agency 15 years ago.

But the biggest blow to the plan may have been struck by Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, who asked the general whether Alabama has the costly communications networks that Space Command needs to do its job.

Dickinson said Alabama doesn't have the communications capability now, but will get it before Space Command arrives, drawing raised eyebrows from Republicans and Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee.

That drew the closest thing to a foul-mouthed insult Lamborn has uttered in a House committee during his 15 years in Congress.

"If the military wanted to put Space Command in a corn field in Iowa, they could do it. We can do whatever we want," he said.

For context, you need to know that Lamborn was born in Kansas, where insulting Iowa cornfields is the official state past-time.

Cornfields aside, Dickinson showed what Congress needs to understand: The Alabama move was never a fully-thought-out plan.

Hatched in the final days of President Donald Trump's tenure, the plan has been called an ill-conceived political play by many lawmakers including Lamborn. They say Trump's move was designed to reward Alabama lawmakers who remained loyal to the president as he contested the 2020 election.

Dickinson didn't talk about political motivations or similar topics lawmakers want to see addressed concerning the move to Alabama.

But he made it clear that there are more questions than answers about the Alabama move.

And because Space Command is critical to America's safety, that should be enough to show Congress that it's better off staying put.

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

City Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's City Editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom has covered the military at home and overseas and has covered statehouses in Denver and Olympia, Wash. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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