Offutt Air Force Base is one of six sites being considered as the future headquarters of the U.S. Space Command, the Air Force announced Thursday.
Offutt was named along with Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, Redstone Army Airfield in Alabama and the former Kelly Air Force Base in Texas, according to an Air Force press release.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for Nebraska,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This is big news. I hope we get it.”
Fischer said the Air Force has tentative plans to build a headquarters and base 1,400 people at the site that’s selected. It could mean an investment of $1 billion to $2 billion in that base.
Offutt is already in the midst of the largest makeover in its history. U.S. Strategic Command opened a new $1.3 billion headquarters last year, and at least $790 million is expected to be spent on recovery and reconstruction from the March 2019 flood that covered one-third of the base and destroyed 137 buildings. In addition, next spring, the Air Force is starting a 2-year, $176 million reconstruction of Offutt’s single runway.
Applications for the headquarters came from sites in 24 states. Before a selection is made in early 2021, Air Force officials plan to make virtual and on-site visits to each location. The assessment will weigh mission-related factors such as infrastructure capacity, community support and cost to the Defense Department, according to the press release.
The Space Command was reactivated in August 2019 as a unified combatant command, with full responsibility for fighting wars in space. It assumed duties previously carried out under the direction of StratCom.
The elevation of Space Command puts it on an equal footing with StratCom and nine other combatant commands, including U.S. Central Command (based in Florida), Indo-Pacific Command (Hawaii), European Command (Germany) and Northern Command (Colorado). It is led by Army Gen. James Dickenson.
“Space Command would be a natural complement to Offutt’s existing mission — to protect U.S. military assets, dominate the battlespace, and support our heroic war fighters,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska’s 1st District said in a statement.
Fischer noted that many StratCom personnel have already worked on the Space Command mission. She also said Offutt boasts ample electrical and communications infrastructure, a high quality of life and a low cost of living in the surrounding community.
“I think we have a lot going for us,” she said. “It’s always tough going against the bigger bases.”
Several of the other finalists have long connections with space, too. Patrick Air Force Base is near the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, where NASA has launched rockets since the beginning of the Space Age. Redstone is the site of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, a hub of space technology and research. Peterson Air Force Base had been the headquarters of the Air Force Space Command since 1982 and is the interim headquarters of SpaceCom.
In April 2019, an earlier list of six possible headquarters sites that did not include Offutt was leaked to the media, provoking a backlash from lawmakers in states not on the list.
The U.S. Space Force — created late last year as a new branch of the military — later ordered the site competition to be restarted with new criteria. Peterson and Redstone are the only carryovers from the earlier list.
Omaha-area Rep. Don Bacon a retired Air Force brigadier general who commanded the Offutt-based 55th Wing, said Offutt’s inclusion shows the military’s appreciation for this area.
“It’s great to see the Pentagon recognize that Nebraska and Offutt Air Force Base are ideal locations for the missions that matter most,” he said.
In his own statement, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts cited the strong relationship between Offutt and the surrounding community.
“There’s no better relationship anywhere in the nation than between the community of Bellevue and Offutt Air Force Base,” he said. “Nebraskans would be honored to have SpaceCom headquartered in Bellevue.”