St. Clair County has launched a bid for the site of the new U.S. Space Command headquarters on land originally proposed for the $1.7 billion western offices of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
The Assistant Secretary of the Air Force John Henderson anticipates that the headquarters will have approximately 1,400 employees when fully established by 2026.
“It’s a great location, it’s in the center of the country, and it has all the makings that have made Scott Air Force Base so successful,” said St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern.
For the bid to move forward in the selection process, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker must endorse it by June 30.
Pritzker’s office did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment.
The bid comes on the heels of a bitter bistate battle between St. Louis and St. Clair County to become the host site of the NGA West headquarters. St. Clair lost the fight when the NGA picked a north St. Louis location in 2016. Since then, U.S. Representative Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and Kern have continued to deride as biased the NGA’s decision to stay in St. Louis.
The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership is considering putting forth a bid for the headquarters as well, according to St. Louis County spokesman Doug Moore.
Kern said the proposed site is now more easily accessible with a new Interstate 64 interchange and the funding of a long-sought $96 million MetroLink extension to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, all since the NGA bid.
To be eligible for nomination for the bid, the Department of Defense is looking for a community that is within the top 150 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas, is situated within 25 miles of a military base, and has a Livability Index score of 50 points or higher, as determined by the American Association of Retired Persons Public Policy Institute.
In his self-nomination letter, Kern said, “After careful review of the screening and evaluation criteria, we believe our community meets all minimum eligibility requirements and would earn a competitive score when assessed against the evaluation criteria.”
Final candidate locations will be announced in November, with a decision expected in January, according to an Air Force spokesman.
All potential host sites will be judged on a 100-point scale based on their ability to carry out the U.S. Space Command mission, infrastructure capacity, community support, and cost to the Air Force.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, and State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, said they support the bid.
The U.S. Space Command is distinct from the U.S. Space Force, according to its website. As an armed force, the Space Force organizes, trains, and equips space forces, while the Space Command coordinates forces from each of the military services for space missions.
President Donald Trump reauthorized the U.S. Space Command last August citing the need for a centralized force to protect American interests in what he called “the next war-fighting domain.” President Ronald Reagan had authorized a U.S. Space Command in 1985 — headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado — but it was disbanded in 2002.
Since the reauthorization, the Space Command has been temporarily headquartered at Peterson, its old host site.
Last year, the U.S. Air Force had narrowed the list of possible Space Command headquarters locations to Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal, California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, and Colorado’s Peterson Air Force Base, Buckley Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station and Schriever Air Force Base.
But Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett announced at a March meeting of the House Armed Services Committee the search would be reopened to give state and local governments an opportunity to compete for the headquarters.