Local air force base not selected as candidate location
The six military bases selected as candidate locations for the U.S. Space Command headquarters were announced on Nov. 19 by the Department of the Air Force, and none of them included Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc.
The six finalists included: Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado; Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico; Patrick Air Force Base in Florida; Redstone Army Airfield in Alabama; Joint Base San Antonio in Texas; and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, according to national media reports.
Although Vandenberg was originally a top three finalist for the headquarters, the reason behind the decision to nix Vandenberg has not yet been revealed.
Ann Stefanek, the chief of Air Force media operations, told the News-Press that the evaluation criteria were organized into four factors to compare all nominated communities and inform the down-select decision for candidate locations.
Those four factors include: mission related, “assessment of the community’s available qualified workforce, proximity to mutually supporting space entities, ability to meet emergency requirements and proximity to a regional airport”; infrastructure capacity, “assessment of proposed location’s ability to support infrastructure requirements to include facility and parking space, communications bandwidth and redundancy, energy resilience, Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection, security requirements, and an assessment of the nearest Department of Defense installation’s ability to provide medical support, childcare, military housing, and transportation”; community support, “assessment of the degree to which a nominating location supports military families as measured by the quality of schools, professional licensure portability, cost of living, housing affordability, and access to military/veteran support programs”; and costs to the Air Force, “assessment of the one-time infrastructure and transportations costs, area construction cost factor, basic allowance for housing rate, and area locality pay.”
When asked why Vandenberg was not included in the list of finalists, Ms. Stefanek said, “Based on the organizational and personnel changes required to support the U.S. Space Force, the Department of the Air Force undertook a more holistic approach and expanded the criteria for locations under consideration for U.S. Space Command.”
She added that the six finalists will not change, and the Air Force will now conduct a combination of on-the-ground and virtual site surveys to determine the best location based on the criteria.
The Regional Economic Action Coalition led the effort to station the headquarters at Vandenberg, citing investment, high-quality jobs and the high-paying industry as components that would provide a huge boost to the Central Coast’s economy. REACH was designated as the official point of contact for Vandenberg’s nomination.
“We’re definitely disappointed,” Andrew Hackleman, REACH’s Chief Operating Officer, told the News-Press. “We certainly wouldn’t claim to insist that Vandenberg would ultimately succeed, but we found it a little odd that the original basing selection process resulted in Vandenberg being in the top three and then when two states complained, Florida and Texas, the process was redone.”
Mr. Hackleman said that while he hasn’t seen how Vandenberg and the surrounding area ranks to other locations or the criteria to determine the best candidate, he said he thinks the process could have been politicized.
“The Space Command is something President Trump created through executive authority, and I don’t know anything about these things, but I do know that California has sometimes been at odds with the president’s administration,” Mr. Hackleman said. “So the presence of that, and I would almost call it a crowned jewel achievement from the Department of Defense’s perspective, may not be something he would want in California.”
However, Mr. Hackleman doesn’t think the push to land the headquarters at Vandenberg is over quite yet. He said he is confident Vandenberg will get a “thorough relook.”
“I think anything can happen. From my perspective, it’s not over yet,” he said. “We have the strong support from Congressman Carbajal, Sen. Feinstein and Vice President-elect Harris.
“Keep in mind that the permanent location won’t be happening until 2026, so with the decision in 2021, that should be under the next administration, and in any event, there will be plenty of opportunity over the course of the next year for this to be looked at again,” Mr. Hackleman said. “There will at least have to be discussion of why Vandenberg’s no longer in the top three.”
Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, issued a statement to the News-Press, saying he is “disappointed and surprised” that Vandenberg was removed from the list of finalists.
“In fact, given our state’s leadership in aerospace engineering and innovation, I’m alarmed that there is not a single California base in the final six contenders,” Rep. Carbajal said. “I’m working with federal and local partners to understand the criteria this decision was based on, and whether it was an objective process or politically motivated.
“If this is simply another attempt by the Trump Administration to bully California, that is unacceptable and I will encourage the incoming Administration to reconsider,” he said. “This isn’t over, and I will continue to make the case that there is no better place than Vandenberg to serve as home to U.S. Space Command.”
Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne told the News-Press that despite the removal of Vandenberg from the short list, the collaborative nomination process was “just the beginning of our ability to advocate for the Central Coast.”
“It highlights why we were the best choice for the U.S.’s newest military branch headquarters as well as the amazing region where we all proudly live and work,” Mayor Osborne said. “I am confident Vandenberg Air Force Base, Lompoc, and the surrounding communities will still be a vital part of Space Command’s mission and look forward to expanding and supporting those opportunities.”
The U.S. Space Command will remain at its provisional headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado until the new facilities are built in what will likely take up to six years. Approximately 1,400 military and civilian personnel will work at the future headquarters.