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Federal officials urge military to consider Vandenberg AFB for new space training unit

The Visitor Control Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Michael Peterson)

Two U.S. senators and a congressman from California have called for military officials to consider Vandenberg Air Force Base as a top candidate for a new space readiness and training unit after rejecting the base for U.S. Space Command headquarters.

Rep. Salud Carbajal and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla also requested more information about why Vandenberg AFB was knocked off the list to house headquarters, according to a March 11 letter sent to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Additionally, the letter recommended that officials consider locating Space Training and Readiness Command, or STARCOM, which would serve as the parent organization responsible for the education of several U.S. Space Force units, at Vandenberg AFB.

“We believe that Vandenberg AFB will be a top-tier candidate due to its existing training assets, including the 533rd Training Squadron,” according to the letter.

The squadron is a unit that trains Space Force guardians in space warfare, including satellite command and control. The squadron was assigned to the authority STARCOM’s Colorado-based provisional unit during a ceremony at Vandenberg AFB in September 2020.

“We look forward to learning more about the methodology that will be used in this basing decision and respectfully request that you give Vandenberg AFB all due consideration during the evaluation process,” the letter continues.

The letter is a follow-up to one sent to then-Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett in December seeking clarification about why Vandenberg AFB was excluded from the list of finalists for U.S. Space Command headquarters.

In 2019, Vandenberg Air Force Base was initially included on a list of top three finalists to host Space Command, which was formally established in December 2019.

Then, on May 15, 2020, Air Force leaders issued a new point system explaining how the selection process works, according to Air Force Magazine. John Henderson, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, called for “eligible communities to self-nominate” to serve as the new command’s host.

To qualify, communities must meet several criteria, including a location “within the largest 150 metropolitan areas in the country, within 25 miles of a current military base and have a livability index score of 50 or more points out of 100 based on ratings from the American Association of Retired Persons Policy Institute, which grades quality of life.

As recently as 2018, Lompoc and Santa Barbara County had overall livability scores of 53 and 52, respectively, according to the AARP index, which also rated “civic and social engagement” and “opportunity” in the two areas at 25 and 49 and 30 and 49, respectively, which is below the 50 threshold.

Six months later, in November 2020, the Air Force inexplicably cut Vandenberg AFB from a new list of six finalists. In January, the Air Force selected Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, as Space Command’s permanent headquarters.

California was the only state to be included in 2019, then later excluded under the new selection process, which came after the governors of Texas and Florida protested and the two states were later added to the second list of finalists, according to the letter.

Feinstein and Carbajal requested evaluation metrics used to determine why Vandenberg AFB was left off the finalists list, which they said they never received, despite multiple requests.

They cited the base’s proximity to the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base as to why Vandenberg was a prime candidate for Space Command.

On Feb. 19, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General announced that it will investigate whether the Air Force “complied with DoD” policies, “used objective and relevant scoring factors,” and “accurately and consistently” calculated costs and other factors among the six candidate locations.

Andrew Hackleman, chief operating officer of REACH in San Luis Obispo, said expanding Vandenberg’s space mission is crucial to growing the Central Coast’s economy.

“The base’s existing space operation, location and room for growth make it ideal for additional Department of Defense missions, and more missions mean expanding Vandenberg’s multibillion dollar impact on the region’s economy with more high-paying jobs in a future-oriented industry,” Hackleman said.


(c) 2021 Santa Maria Times

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