Statements by the new commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD and an investigator for Congress raise new questions regarding plans to move early-warning systems from Cheyenne Mountain to Peterson Air Force Base.
Gen. Gene Renuart called Cheyenne Mountain "essential to the defense of North America" in a written statement to the Independent.
Renuart said he was "not aware of any plans to close the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station" and he expected to be consulted, but wasn't the lead, for any transformation plan.
His words contrast with those of his just-departed predecessor, Adm. Timothy Keating, the impetus for moving operations to Peterson.
At a media roundtable last week before he relinquished control of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD North American Aerospace Defense Command Keating said a move to Peterson is "beneficial to improve combat efficiency and effectiveness" and that such a change "will save us money."
Renuart did not use such language in his statement.
"I am committed to find the most effective and efficient ways to take advantage of Cheyenne Mountain's unique capabilities to assure unity of effort to deter, prevent and defeat the types of threats that we face today and possibly in the future," he stated.
Renuart said he supports the idea that the majority of Cheyenne Mountain operations be "co-located" at Peterson. He said he plans to learn more about the transition that Keating initiated in cooperation with U.S. Strategic Command and Air Force Space Command. Both commands have missions inside the mountain.
The Independent also has learned that the Governmental Accountability Office has concluded in a preliminary report that the move does not provide the benefits touted by top commanders.
"GAO did not find that this move or change would be beneficial to improved combat readiness and effectiveness," Davi D'Agostino, director of a GAO defense capabilities and management team, said in a phone interview. "You can say that with great amounts of certainty."
The GAO report, due in May, will reveal no cost savings, D'Agostino said.
Nonetheless, as of today, the transition appears on track to be done by 2008.
"The Cold War is not our major threat anymore," Navy Capt. Johnny Green says. "It's over. We're looking at a terrorist threat stream and making risk decisions based on capability and intent."
Green commands Cheyenne Mountain Directorate, which provides information about potential attacks in North America to commanders and, ultimately, the president.
The idea for transition arose in 2005 when Keating became "frustrated" during a major training exercise, says Green, who worked closely with the admiral at the time.
"He made more of his major decisions during that exercise on a secure cell phone in the car than he made in either one of his command centers, because he was constantly going back and forth between them," says Green.
The drive, which can take 20 to 30 minutes, is often required since Northern Command created in the wake of 9/11 and headquartered at Peterson has mission priorities not ideal for Cheyenne Mountain.
"If you tell me the threat is a manned bomber aircraft, I want to be in Cheyenne Mountain," Green says. "If you tell me it's an information or cyber threat on the World Wide Web, I'd tell you I'd want to be at Building 2 on Peterson Air Force Base, because our capabilities in that arena at Peterson are better right now."
Several classified studies, Green says, support turning Cheyenne Mountain into an "alternate command center" and moving operations to the basement of Building 2 on Peterson.
Under the plan, it would take about an hour to "re-man" Cheyenne Mountain in an emergency, Green adds.
Security at the installations is very different. Peterson allows civilians with a driver's license, registration and insurance to enter. Peterson is also near Colorado Springs Airport's commercial flight paths, raising concerns terrorists could target Building 2. Green says plans are being considered to improve the base's security.
Air Force Space Command recently took steps to relocate its Space Control Center, manned by the 1st Space Control Squadron, from Cheyenne Mountain to the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, said Masao Doi, a spokesman for the command.
Some squadron members and equipment are already at Vandenberg in a move in which the control center should be initially operational in late April and fully operational in August.
About 140 military and civil personnel and contractors will relocate from Colorado Springs to Vandenberg in the effort that Doi said is meant to enhance mission effectiveness and support combatant commanders around the world.