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Gen Ralph "Ed" Eberhart, US Space Command

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Ralph "Ed" Eberhart, General, United States, Air Force, Retired

Does Not Pass The Common Sense Test.

General Ralph “Ed” Eberhart was head of U.S. Space Command (as well as Air Force Space Command and NORAD) on 9/11. A year later, U.S. Space Command was inactivated as Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) stood up. U.S. Space Command’s missions were transferred to U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha. General Eberhart is fully aware of the ramifications of such tectonic shifts in national defense architecture. In an exclusive January 25 interview, he cut through some of the hype to describe what might happen next.

n 9/11, it became very clear we did not have one command, one commander responsible for the defense of North America. It was like having several football coaches calling the plays,” Eberhart told us. “The Secretary of Defense and the President were frustrated by the command arrangements. That is why we stood up Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).”

However, when the bus pulled into Omaha, space was not driving. “In retrospect, while well intentioned, it was a mistake to stand down U.S. Space Command and fold into U.S. Strategic Command. Space could never be the number one priority in that command and understandably so.”

On August 29, 2019, the mistake was corrected. USSPACECOM was reestablished on a temporary basis, again in Colorado Springs. Now, it appears that the command may be relocated once again. Is history repeating itself?

“I would have a hard time saying that moving U.S. Space Command to Huntsville is as big a mistake as it was to stand down the command in 2002. But I do think it is a mistake,” he says. “The commander and the leadership team will spend many hours planning the move, moving, and getting settled. That time and energy are better spent focusing on the core, assigned missions of the command. But what I find most disturbing is the expense of the move to the American people.”

Eberhart is alarmed at the proposed cost of the move: “While I have heard quite a range of the costs associated with the move, I think any cost does not pass the common sense test.” He is unimpressed by arguments that compare this to the cost of a single classified satellite: “I do not think that’s relevant. You can find things that are more expensive, but that doesn’t make it okay.”

Eberhart is similarly unmoved by arguments over the comparative cost of housing. “While Huntsville costs are fairly low now, when you move all these people—uniformed military, government civilians, associated space industry workers, and their families—housing expenses are going to go up.”

What about “brain drain,” the oft-touted idea that a significant percentage of the workforce doesn’t want to move from Colorado to Alabama? Was that a factor in ’02? “Well, there were some people who did not go. However, that is not to say that the space mission in U.S. Strategic Command suffered from brain drain,” he says. “But you are still uprooting kids from school, spouses from jobs, and interrupting activities, such as sports, hobbies, skiing, and hiking—some unique to Colorado. The impact on the families has to be considered. I am not a big believer that we won’t be able to populate [USSPACECOM] with the people who have the expertise and experience to do the job. It is just going to be harder. I think we should take the high ground and not disparage Huntsville.”

What about reports, unconfirmed at this writing, that then-President Trump overruled the recommendation of Air Force Secretary Barret to award USSPACECOM to Colorado Springs? “Many of us have heard second- or third-hand about how this decision was made. I am careful not to speculate in that I do not know for sure. Regardless, once again, it does not pass the common sense test.”

As for reports that an assistant secretary of the Air Force said that Huntsville scored higher on more categories than any other city, Eberhart reserves judgment. “I would like to see that analysis. What the differences were. All categories aren’t equal,” he says. “I think they should share their findings, just like they shared BRAC, the base realignment and closure [results]. People saw the analysis, which enabled them to better understand the decision. I think that...if you put a mic in front of anyone from U.S. Space Command, they will tell you this is the right place for the command. Previous commanders and others have stressed the synergy that exists by having U.S. Space Command, NORAD, and USNORTHCOM all in one place. That is so true: That synergy is powerful.

“USSPACECOM is slated to be in Colorado Springs until 2026, which gives us time to reverse this decision,” he says. “It is important to note that Colorado Springs has been the home of operational space since the early ’80s. Space is in our genes. Furthermore, and most important, we have been good stewards of the space mission.

“I don’t know of anything the community could have done differently,” he says. “While we gave it our best shot, we need to continue to work to right this wrong.”