Update at 12:12 p.m. on 6/28/2019:
Gen. John "Jay" Raymond was confirmed by the full Senate to lead U.S. Space command in a vote on June 27, 2019. In a statement to KUNC, the general said he was "humbled and honored" to be confirmed and called space "absolutely critical" to "our daily lives."
The original story continues below.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe recently sounded a bit like a politician from the Cold War era, when tensions were high between competing global powers.
"National Defense Strategy directs our national military to prepare for the return of great power competition," the Republican senator from Oklahoma said. "This means we must be prepared to deter and, if necessary, decisively defeat potential near-peer adversaries. Obviously, we're talking about China and Russia."
Only now the U.S. says the threat isn't communism. Rather, China and Russia are seeking to "shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model." That's according to the 2018 National Defense Strategy, to which Inhofe referred.
A major area of military concern is space, where adversaries have the potential to disrupt the U.S. military — everything from jamming communications to using lasers to blind satellite cameras.
To address such challenges, President Trump is pushing for U.S. Space Command. The initiative has united Colorado's congressional delegation — all five Democrats and three Republicans. They want Colorado to be headquarters to the command.
Trump has nominated a Colorado general to lead it: John "Jay" Raymond, who made his case for the job, and creating the command, at a U.S. Senate hearing earlier this month.
"We no longer have the luxury of operating in a peaceful, benign domain and we no longer have the luxury of treating space superiority as a given," Raymond testified.
Raymond already oversees a command on Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs that organizes, trains and equips the military for an array of space operations. He additionally has staff at U.S. Strategic Command, which itself contends with several mission areas, the operational command and control of space forces, just one.
Carving out a separate U.S. Space Command would strengthen the military's focus in space, Raymond told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"Our goal is actually to deter a conflict from extending into space," Raymond said. "The best way I know how to deter that is to be prepared to fight and win if deterrence were to fail."
On June 12, the committee approved Raymond's nomination, sending him to the full Senate for consideration.
Troops across the globe — on the ground, at sea, in the air and behind computer screens — communicate, coordinate and use GPS in real time over vast distances during operations, often relying on space satellites.
Other countries have been chipping away at the U.S. military post-Cold War era of superiority in space for at least a decade. In 2007, for instance, China used a precision rocket to successfully take down one of its own satellites. Russia has also conducted successful anti-satellite tests and, in March, India joined the group.
The U.S. also demonstrated such capabilities in 2008, but not as a test. According to news reports from the time, U.S. officials said the goal of shooting down a failing satellite was to prevent toxic fuel from becoming a safety hazard.
Raymond's current base, Peterson, is on the list of potential locations for the U.S. Space Command, according to the Air Force. So are three more sites in Colorado:
- Shriever Air Force Base (Colorado Springs)
- Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station (Colorado Springs)
- Buckley Air Force Base (Aurora)
Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Alabama round out the list of contenders.
Each site has significant space-oriented operations and the region that gets it is expected to reap economic benefits. In Colorado, the aerospace industry already provides an estimated $15-billion impact, according to the state.
Colorado's congressional delegation sent a letter to the acting secretary of defense touting the state.
"As the epicenter of national security space, Colorado is the prime location to house national efforts to ensure continued U.S. technological superiority, global leadership, and capabilities in space," the letter states. "For these reasons, it is in the nation's best interests to base U.S. Space Command in Colorado."
The letter adds that the military could "capitalize on Colorado's existing military and intelligence missions and infrastructure to swiftly and comprehensively ensure space superiority over actors like Russia and China."
The selection process is expected to continue for several months, said Lt. Col. Christina Hoggatt with Air Force Space Command at Peterson. The Air Force is in the process of site reviews, including environmental analyses.
"The ultimate decision for where U.S. Space Command will be located will be based on factors such as operational requirements, security requirements, and staff synchronization to ensure the new command can efficiently, effectively, and successfully execute its mission," Hoggatt said in an email.
Meanwhile leaders are already addressing perceived hurdles at sites. For instance, Congressman Doug Lamborn is working with Gov. Jared Polis to fix a daily headache and potential security issue at Shriever. State Highway 94 is regularly jammed as slow trucks make their way up a steep incline with no passing lane.
"I have requested that the extraordinary state and national benefits of maintaining proper access to this nationally significant military installation be properly considered during the Colorado Department of Transportation's planning process," Polis wrote to Lamborn.
The fix could cost up to $10 million, according to the letter.
It is possible funds for some fixes might come from the federal government. Hoggatt said that once a site is chosen, the Pentagon anticipates working with Congress to make any necessary infrastructure improvements.
Lamborn said two bases in his district stand out. "Both Peterson and Shriever Air Force Bases are great choices and would offer a speedy and fiscally-responsible home for U.S. Space Command," Lamborn said.