Faced with daunting competition from Colorado, California, Alabama, and elsewhere, Florida began organizing its proposal Thursday to attract the newly authorized military U.S. Space Command, which would prepare for space warfare.
“We own the higher ground on the ability to place, support and operate space assets,” Space Florida President Frank DiBello declared, touting the launch capabilities, the preferred orbital trajectories from Florida, emerging commercial space sector, and Florida’s existing military bases and commands.
Gov. Ron DeSantis is putting forth Cape Canaveral, home to Kennedy Space Center; Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which launches most of the nation’s military rockets now; and Patrick Air Force Base, as the preferred location in Florida. On Thursday more than 100 government, chambers of commerce, and space industry officials throughout the state gathered in Orlando to discuss how to turn that into a unified and winning proposal from the Sunshine State.
Florida officials may believe they own the higher ground. but Space Florida and its allies Thursday, while touting all of Florida’s advantages as if they were chamber or commerce pitches, they also had to dismiss press reports from April, neither confirmed nor denied by the Air Force, that said Colorado was the leading candidate and Florida already had failed to make the first cut.
“We know that’s not the case,” Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, chair of the Space Florida Board of Directors, said in a videotaped presentation. “We know it is wide open and Florida is in it. And we’re in it to win.
“U.S. Space Command belongs in Florida. No other state hosts more combatant commands. Florida also is home to over 20 military installations. Additionally, Florida has a long history in support of our nation’s efforts in space. And our commercial space industry is booming.”
Her comments were echoed by several other speakers who also noted the state’s other assets ranging from research being done at Florida’s universities to Florida lifestyle.
What’s at stake? The command is expected to host 1,200 personnel, military and civilian. It’s also expected to develop the cutting edge of the next frontier of warfare, space, which already is expected to boom with commercial activity in coming decades.
One speaker compared the development of a U.S. Space Command and the emerging frontier with the Navies of hundreds of years ago, developed to keep the seas free and open for exploration and commerce. Another compared them with the U.S. Army’s role in opening of the United States’ western frontiers to exploration and commerce.
The U.S. Air Force intends to go through a long, involved process, though that will begin in a matter of weeks with key congressional hearings. The Air Force is following its usual new base siting protocols, which will involve at least three rounds of congressional oversight, narrowing down potential locations to a few, and then to a preferred site and an alternative. Ultimately, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson will decide.
Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine Beach, a member of both the House Armed Services Committee and the Space Subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee, assured the gathering that, “Despite what you may have read in the media, the Air Force has indicated to me that it is following its basic strategic process.”
The U.S. Space Command would coordinate all the military branches in developing, administering, and, if needed, mobilizing defense and warfare efforts conducted in space.
This is not just about putting up military reconnaissance or communications satellites anymore, much of what the Air Force has been doing for decades from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Several speakers, albeit civilian consultants [the U.S. Department of Defense does not participate in base pitch efforts] pointed out this also will be about weaponizing space.
“Make no doubt that space today is a war-fighting domain. It is no longer a domain just to travel through. It is a domain, it is a global common, that this nation must protect,” said Glenn Spears, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant-general who is consulting Space Florida through the Principi Group.
It was left largely to DiBello, Florida’s official visionary for space opportunity, to describe the broader ramifications of a U.S. Space Command. The next generation of military space assets including hypersonics, laser-beam, cyber and electromagnetic offensive and defenses, and robotic platforms, he suggested, will be positioned for rapid use. So they will be highly movable, rapidly accessible, reconfigurable and reprogrammable.
“Space defenses is happening. And it’s being driven by our adversaries. And it will be launched and supported by Florida,” DiBello said.
That also means huge opportunities for commercial support, just as a Navy opening up ocean exploration or the Army opening up the West needed trading posts, suppliers, and civilian support.
“There will be and must be deep logistics support and rapid-deployment capability and built-in resilience for rapid reconstitution in the face of real-time attrition,” DiBello said. “This is real-time space operations in the face of a threat.”