With U.S. military officials still mulling where to establish a permanent headquarters for the recently reactivated U.S. Space Command, a wide-ranging group of community members, civic leaders and organizations has formally made the case for Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The bid to bring the command to VAFB was formally submitted Wednesday to the Air Force. It was supported by REACH, an economic impact organization that focuses on the Central Coast, as well as several elected officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom; Sen. Kamala Harris, who is also the Democratic nominee for vice president; Sen. Dianne Feinstein; Congressman Salud Carbajal; and Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham.
The field of candidates is expected to be narrowed by November, with a short list of finalists moving on for further evaluation. A final decision is tentatively planned for early 2021.
The U.S. Space Command headquarters, which is being temporarily housed at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, is expected to be operational in about six years.
Andrew Hackleman, the vice president of strategy for REACH and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, pointed to detailed data that REACH compiled on the region’s workforce, infrastructure, space-related entities and other attributes that were used to develop the bid for VAFB’s selection. To compile that data, REACH convened a team that included representatives from local government, chambers of commerce, education and the military.
“Pulling together this significant effort served to prove out what we already knew: that the Central Coast, with a burgeoning aerospace ecosystem, educated workforce and world-class higher education, offers all the ingredients to support the U.S. Space Command’s mission and people,” he said.
The selection process is competitive and similar in many ways to the efforts that communities have undertaken to attract large corporations, like Amazon, to their area.
For the U.S. Space Command bid, the Central Coast team provided extensive information on VAFB’s ability to host the future headquarters, which is anticipated to be home to a four-star general, international liaisons and 1,500 high-level military personnel.
“Vandenberg Air Force Base houses the Combined Space Operations Center and already serves as the prime West Coast launch site for the Department of Defense,” Carbajal said. “The infrastructure is already in place for Vandenberg to defend our national interests in space, and the surrounding community offers several unparalleled advantages.
“The Central Coast boasts multiple world-class universities preparing our students for the jobs of the future, and a diverse community eager to welcome U.S. Space Command personnel, service members and their families,” he added. “I’m thankful for REACH’s work to bring businesses, government and community members together to make the case that Vandenberg is the perfect home for U.S. Space Command.”
The headquarters would be located on a 27-acre parcel on base, according to the submitted proposal, close to the nearly completed facility built to support the Combined Space Operations Center, which is where U.S. and allied personnel track objects and activities in space. The Combined Space Operations Center is part of the VAFB-based Combined Force Space Component Command, one of two field organizations that support the Space Command.
Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne was also among those to throw support behind the bid.
“VAFB may be one of many U.S. military installations, but it has always been Lompoc’s ‘Gateway to the Stars,’” she said. “Our community fully supports the mission-critical responsibilities that Vandenberg has delivered over the decades and welcomes the next chapter of being the permanent home for USSPACECOM. We are here to support the new mission, service members and their families, and are confident that VAFB is the ‘right stuff.’”
While the headquarters would be on the base, many of those who support the bid are excited about its potential impact off base.
In addition to the 1,500 additional personnel that could contribute to the region’s economy, REACH reported that the headquarters would involve millions of dollars in contracts and services for construction and design, engineering, health care and mission-related activities for firms across the region.
It would also likely boost the effort to establish a thriving commercial space industry on the Central Coast, an initiative that was announced by REACH in early August. A master plan is in development for that project. The Santa Barbara County board of supervisors authorized a letter this week in which the board expressed an interest in participating in that process and providing a liaison through the county’s executive office.
“This type of development is a great opportunity for commercial development and new higher-paying jobs in our community,” read a portion of the letter, which was sent to REACH, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, the 30th Space Wing, Deloitte and Cal Poly, all of whom signed the memorandum of understanding to develop the master plan. “The master plan aims to enhance competitiveness and thus encourage skilled jobs of the future for our region.”
U.S. Space Command is separate from the U.S. Space Force, a military branch that was stood up in December 2019 and is headquartered at the Pentagon. U.S. Space Command is the combatant command used in war-fighting, while the Space Force is a service to train the men and women who fight in the command.
Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.
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