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Will Space Command Come To Florida? State Leaders Ready To Make The Case Once Again

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U.S. Space Command. Photo: Department of Defense

Florida is back in the running to host the Space Command. The Air Force left the state off a short list last year but the competition to host Space Command has been reopened.

Even before Congress created the Space Force in December 2019 at the President’s request, military leaders were focusing assets to protect national security against a space-based threat.

That effort was the Space Command, which re-ups a previously dormant combatant command group. Space Command brings together military leadership and staff that controls a particular asset in both war and peace. It’s one of 11 combatant command groups that provides operational instructions and command and control to the Armed Forces. For example, Central Command controls all military assets in the middle east. Cyber Command streamlines the military’s cyberspace operations.

When it was time to set up a new Space Command, it was up to the Air Force to pick a new location. Having a command brings additional jobs to the state and through public-private partnerships bolsters the local commercial defense economy. Florida lobbied hard — but was ultimately left off a short list of potential locations last year.

The decision took the wind out of Florida sails — until last week.

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett told a House committee last week the Pentagon has relaunched a new competition to find a host for Space Command.

That’s welcome news to the space industry and to lawmakers who were stunned by the original decision. “Frankly, I’ve registered some complaints on how that process went about,” said Republican Congressman Mike Waltz. “It was very closed and was very opaque.”

Space Command will support the newly-created Space Force, which is headquartered at the Pentagon. Waltz said it makes sense to host Space Command in the sunshine state.

“Bottom line is Florida is going to get a chance to pitch itself. Space is in our DNA. I think we have the workforce, we have the history and we certainly have the launch apparatus to be a very attractive place for this combatant command,” said Waltz.

It will be up to the state agency Space Florida to package those selling points to Pentagon leaders. Space Florida’s Dale Ketcham is cautiously optimistic for Florida’s chances now that the competition has been reopened.

“When you look at the whole capability, the state Florida is just a tremendous national security asset with  all kinds of capabilities —  military, industrial and academic — that can support the Space Command mission,” said Ketcham.

The state supports military launches from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. It has a skilled workforce and aerospace programs at Florida Tech, Embry Riddle and University of Central Florida.

Florida already hosts three combatant command groups inlcuding Southern Command in Doral, Florida which manages assets in Central and South America and Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa controls military activity in the middle east. MacDill also hosts Special Operations Command.

Hosting another combatant command means more jobs and training opportunities for Floridians.

“There’s certainly a lot of prestige that comes with having a combatant command, particularly one that has involves space,” said Ketcham. “If you say the words space, Floridians naturally have a tendency as part of our own self identity to assume that it ought to be here.”

If Florida is selected, where will Space Command call home? Leaders haven’t decided that just yet, but Congressman Mike Waltz said Patrick Air Force Base — soon to be renamed Patrick Space Force Base — could be the right call:

“It’s literally right next door to Cape Canaveral, where you have all of that launch apparatus and you have all of the private sector company growing and booming.”

It’s unclear what other states might petition to host the new command, although a handful have shown some interest. Colorado lead the Air Force’s short list last year.

“I think it could come down to Florida and Colorado,” said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. “I think even the Air Force is looking more favorably to Florida even though they have a strong preference for Colorado.”

The Air Force is expected to announce its list of criteria this spring with a selection around the end of the year.

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Are We There Yet?' Host

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. Brendan is a native Floridian, born and raised in Broward County. He moved to ... Read Full Bio »