Space has once again become a prominent national security issue 63 years after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. Sputnik's launch sent shockwaves throughout the U.S., thought to have been the world's technological leader. This historical event and the U.S. response provides us with valuable context for how the U.S. faces the current space challenge posed by today’s array of potential adversaries.
In meeting this challenge, the U.S. has established Space Force, a U.S. Air Force component. The operational arm of Space Force will be U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM), a unified combatant command created in 1985 before being disbanded and subsumed by U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) in 2002.
With Space Force's creation, SPACECOM will once again be a unified combatant command and no longer a component of STRATCOM, which brings us to the current debate about where to base this new unified combatant command.
Among the six candidates for basing Space Command are: “Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., a space technology hub for the Air Force Research Laboratory; Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., the headquarters of U.S. Strategic Command; Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., which manages space launches at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station; Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., home to the current SPACECOM headquarters; Port San Antonio, Texas, the former Kelly Air Force Base; and Redstone Army Airfield, Ala., in the “Rocket City” of the South.”
There are merits to all basing proposals, but only one provides the "Sputnik" response needed to maintain our technological edge in space.
Offutt Air Force Base, home of STRATCOM, is the only operational base of the current options listed. Furthermore, public-private partnerships, cost of living, and quality of life are all unparalleled in Omaha and this region of the U.S.
In addition to STRATCOM being on Offutt, so is the newly renovated nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) headquarters. NC3 is a critical component in our collective national defense, and the constellation of satellites currently being established is a critical component of this and our early warning systems.
The satellite systems currently being installed are just the beginning of a critical operational space architecture. Space Force and SPACECOM will need to rely upon research and development and public-private partnerships.
To this end, University of Nebraska President Ted Carter has established a midwestern university alliance focused on space-oriented academic and research. Such an arrangement would mirror the successful response to Sputnik by creating a hub of Space-based scientific research and development that would be unparalleled and unmatched anywhere else. The University of Nebraska is already home to the National Strategic Research Institute, which was just renewed this year with a $92 million contract from the Air Force. The institute conducts national security & defense research and is one of only 14 of its kind in the country.
Another critical consideration will be the construction of SPACECOM’s headquarters, yet another reason for choosing Omaha. Omaha recently, with private investment, constructed a new VA clinic that saved taxpayers $34 million (28% of the project’s cost) and reduced the timeline by 4 ½ months.
But more than just creating the operational and R&D foundations for basing at Offutt, the personnel, both military and civilian, will be crucial in making SPACECOM a success in facing future challenges in space.
Getting the right personnel and the environment supportive to them is just another reason why Offutt and Nebraska are the best choice. Many officers and airmen have told me that Colorado Springs is certainly beautiful, but the ability to purchase a home or even rent is often unattainable. Omaha, in contrast, is one of the most affordable places to live in the entire country.
Quality of life will be crucial in the future of SPACECOM's future success. As the economy continues to recover, attracting and retaining top talent will be vital for both civilians and the military. Omaha has an excellent public school system and the University of Nebraska system.
Spouses of civilian and military members will also have access to various employment opportunities on the base itself and throughout the community.
To prevent another “Sputnik” moment in space, Omaha makes the obvious choice for SPACECOM and the future of our Nation’s security.
David P. Craig is editor of RealClearDefense.