As the U.S. Space Force begins to redesignate Air Force units with a space-only mission and to realign and rename bases accordingly, it will also restart its search for a permanent headquarters for U.S. Space Command, the military's 11th combatant command, which stood up in August.
"We will be issuing an invitation for communities to come forward and identify that they would like to [be considered]," Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett said Tuesday. She first disclosed the move last week during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
The Pentagon will make its choice "late in the year, or early next year," she said during an Air Force Association event in Washington, D.C.
The new process is a result of staff and personnel movements between Space Command and the U.S. Space Force, Barrett said. The newest military branch, which falls under the Department of the Air Force, was signed into law in December.
"That reshuffles what would be the command headquarters operation, so we are reevaluating and restarting that process," she said.
The secretary's latest comments come after Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week disclosed that some lawmakers whose states are vying to host SPACECOM felt the process wasn't transparent enough.
"During my talks on the Hill prior to my nomination, particularly after my hearing here, I visited the House and heard from members on both sides of the aisle that they thought the process that had been run was unfair and not transparent," Esper said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing March 4. "So I directed at that time that we pause in place ,.. [and] we directed it be revisited and a different approach be taken."
Leaders are expected to disclose how candidate bases may be selected "this spring," Barrett said. Bases will be scored based on criteria that could be based on "talent and infrastructure" but may also include "things like the quality of schools and the ability of spouses to get jobs, so the occupational reciprocity of the states," Barrett said.
In May 2019, the Air Force announced it was weighing four Colorado locations, including Buckley Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Peterson Air Force Base and Schriever Air Force Base, to accomodate SPACECOM. Other options are the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Alabama and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
A decision was originally due this summer.
But that February, nearly a dozen elected officials tried to petition the Defense Department and President Donald Trump to have Space Command placed in Florida.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said he would formally ask the president to locate the department's unified combatant command for space at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
"I am formally sending a request to @realDonaldTrump to place the headquarters for the Space Force Combatant Command here in Florida @NASAKennedy in Cape Canaveral," he tweeted Feb. 19, 2019.
In a letter to then-acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Republican Reps. Michael Waltz and Bill Posey, members of the House Armed Services Committee, and 11 other Florida lawmakers said their state remains "the epicenter of America's space program," Stars and Stripes reported.
The process could become contentious: During a recent campaign rally, Trump implied that he -- not necessarily the Pentagon -- will decide where to house the command.
"You are being very strongly considered for the Space Command, very strongly," Trump said during a Colorado Springs rally Feb. 20.
"I will be making a big decision on the future of the Space Force as to where it is going to be located, and I know you want it," he told the crowd, as reported by the Colorado Springs Gazette. "I will be making a decision by the end of the year."
Space policy and budget experts have said it would be wise to concentrate operations at Peterson because it already hosts a robust space mission.
Peterson "is where [SPACECOM] was originally headquartered," said Brian Weeden, director or program planning and technical adviser for national and international space security for the Secure World Foundation.
Weeden was referring to the first combatant command for space, founded in 1985. It disbanded in 2002. He spoke to Military.com about the potential base moves last year.
"I don't think there's any single base that is 100% a good fit" to house [SPACECOM] in its entirety, he said. "But there are a couple that make more sense than the others."