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US Air Force nixes Vandenberg for Space Force headquarters

A SpaceX Falcon 9 at a Vandenberg AFB launch pad in 2017.

In a blow to the future of a post-Diablo Canyon Central Coast economy, Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) appears to have lost a bid to become the new headquarters for American military growth into space. But regional economic planners aren’t giving up on making the case for Vandenberg just yet.

On Nov. 20, the Air Force announced it had narrowed down its list of candidate bases to eventually host the U.S. Space Command headquarters, and Vandenberg did not make the finalist list. Bases in Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas did, and Air Force officials say they expect to make a final decision by early next year among the six remaining choices.

But according to REACH, the private sector-led coalition working on a regional economic plan, the future isn’t carved in stone.

“The bottom line is that the decision won’t be made until 2021 under the Biden Administration, and REACH and local elected officials will continue to advocate for Vandenberg — originally a top three finalist — as the ultimate choice for SpaceCom HQ,” said REACH’s Sally Buffalo in an email to KCBX News Monday.

An estimated 1,400 people, both military and civilian, are expected to work at the planned headquarters. In August of 2019, the Trump Administration revived the U.S. Space Command with a renewed focus on space as a war-fighting realm.

“VAFB already has several key organizations that are either part of or support to USSPACECOM—[such as the] Combined Force Space Component Command and Combined Space Operations Center—so it is a natural fit and growth opportunity,” according to a REACH whitepaper on the recent decision. “USSPACECOM HQ is led by a 4-star general. It is really impossible to overstate the clout that this would bring to our region and California...for future mission growth at VAFB, as well as the nexus with the commercial space industry, this particular 4-star command would add significantly to our voice in advocating for space.”

The Air Force said officials at 24 bases around the country applied to host the future headquarters location, and that decisions are based on “factors related to mission, infrastructure, capacity, community support and costs to the U.S. Department of Defense.” REACH staff say they plan to dig into “the process, scoring and rationale” for Vandenberg being on the Air Force’s initial finalists’ list “but not the current list.”

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