A document created by the Pentagon to justify its decision to strip Colorado Springs of U.S. Space Command and send its 1,400 troops to Alabama has caused even more consternation among local leaders who say it proves the process was flawed and politics may have played a role.
The Air Force found Colorado lacking in expected areas like housing prices, but also contended its utilities, hospital systems, schools, airport and ability to fight off terrorists were subpar compared to the other finalists, the document obtained by The Gazette shows.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said the findings are so flawed that he was wondering if the Air Force team of evaluators got their cities mixed up.
“It's comical,” Suthers said. “It is absolutely comical.”
The document, dated Feb. 3, was issued three weeks after a controversial decision in the final days of the Trump administration to award the command to Huntsville, Ala. Several sources familiar with the decision say the military picked Colorado Springs as its top choice to house the command, but was overruled by then President Donald Trump, who picked Alabama.
Colorado Springs last year was named the provisional home through 2026 for the command, which oversees all military missions in orbit. That decision came amid a process to pick a city to house the command that was stopped and restarted amid political intrigue and a pledge by Trump that he would personally decide the matter.
After the Pentagon named Huntsville as the command’s new home, lawmakers from Colorado and across the country have called for the Biden administration to investigate how that decision was reached.
The loudest criticism has come from Colorado where all nine members of the state’s congressional delegation have asked President Joe Biden to reverse the decision, and Gov. Jared Polis and state lawmakers last week asked new Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to investigate the process.
Last week, Pentagon leaders attempted to quell the Colorado rebellion with a PowerPoint presentation that slammed Colorado Springs as subpar instead of showing why Huntsville won.
One of the findings that most irked Suthers and others was the military's claim that Peterson Air Force base was in the bottom third of the six finalist cities for access to a commercial airfield. Peterson Air Force Base abuts the runway it shares with the Colorado Springs Airport. One of America’s longest runways capable of landing the military’s heaviest planes, Peterson was an alternate landing site for the Space Shuttle.
The measure that found Colorado Springs airport infrastructure at the bottom also considered its ability to handle “distinguished visitors.” Peterson is the Pentagon’s second busiest air terminal for distinguished visitors, coming in only behind Andrews Air Force Base in Washington.
Reggie Ash, who oversees military issues for the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC slammed the analysis in an email.
“In addition to overlooking significant strengths in many areas, including our great medical systems, our first-rate airport and a utilities company in the top 1% in the country for reliability, they fail to properly explain that the secretary of the Air Force recommended Colorado, and President Trump overruled the strong advice of his senior military leaders in both 2019 and three weeks ago when he selected Alabama,” Ash wrote.
Another claim by the military that drew criticism found that Colorado Springs is in the middle of the pack for a “relative measure of physical, electronic and site security to support all requirements.”
Colorado Springs faced Huntsville, Albuquerque, N.M., Omaha, Neb., San Antonio and Melbourne, Fla., as finalists for the command. Of those, only Colorado Springs has a combination of ground troops, airpower and a Cold War bunker in Cheyenne Mountain that was designed to survive a nuclear attack.
The command was reestablished in 2019 to counter rising threats in orbit from rivals including Russia and China. Because of the command’s key role in securing America’s constellation of military satellites, its headquarters could be a key target if war beaks out,
Suthers pointed to Fort Carson, with the 4th Infantry Division and the 10th Special Forces Group, the underground Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center that was offered for the command’s use and the 140th Fighter Wing at Buckley Air force Base in Aurora that could have its F-16s overhead in minutes as reasons the military’s analysis didn’t make sense.
“Anti-terrorism and force protection security requirements?” Suthers said. “What do you think we are doing now for Space Command?"
Another irksome finding for local leaders was the military’s claim that Colorado Springs was at the bottom of the finalists when it comes to “infrastructure to provide robust and resilient prime power.”
Colorado Springs Utilities, owned by the city, regularly tops national reliability ratings, Suthers said, and Peterson is wired into the grid at several points so no single failure can turn the lights off.
“Every study I have ever seen about energy resilience rates Colorado Springs Utilities at the very top,” Suthers said.
The military’s findings baffled Vicky Lea, director of aerospace and aviation for Metro Denver EDC.
“It’s difficult — if not impossible — to analyze the information in these slides, since this summary lacks context for how other states ranked,” she said in an email. “This report is dated Feb. 3, after the announcement was made, and given the lack of information on how data was weighted, it seems to raise more questions than answers.”
Despite a boom in new hospitals in the Pikes Peak region and the military health care available at the seven military installations along the Front Range, the military found Colorado Springs at the bottom of the finalists for medical capabilities.
“I just find it amazing,” Suthers said.
The Pikes Peak region’s schools, which include the Air Force Academy, which last year graduated the first lieutenants for the new Space Force, came in below the leaders, too.
Colorado Springs registered at the bottom for costs to accommodate the command, even though the command is already housed in Colorado Springs, most of the facilities to support it have already been built and the city offered 1,500 acres of free land for any new facilities as part of a $130 million incentives package.
The only areas where the Pikes Peak region fared well were in support to troops, employment of military spouses and the availability of on-base housing.
“It is disappointing that in many cases the rankings don’t appear to reflect many of the known existing strengths in the Colorado Springs region, and really underscores the need for the administration to suspend any further action on the decision to relocate U.S. Space Command and conduct a thorough investigation of the metrics and standards utilized in the decision-making process,” Lea said.
Suthers said he will continue his fight to have Biden reverse the decision until a fair analysis has been made. He said the military’s Feb. 3 document isn’t worth the paper it was printed on.
“It's either a document that was meant to achieve a political end or it’s a very flawed analysis,” he said.