San Antonio is one of six finalist communities to host the headquarters for U.S. Space Command — the unified combatant command responsible for commanding and controlling space operations by all our military forces.
For those of us who are familiar with the exceptional and diverse attributes of “Military City, USA,” San Antonio’s inclusion on the short list came as no surprise. While much has already been said about what makes San Antonio such a natural partner for Space Command, I would like to focus on two considerations that will be critical to the final location decision: (1) the practical matters of funding, building, manning, operating, and sustaining the command and (2) ensuring that it operates with a culture that prioritizes innovation, enhances the use of new and emerging technologies, and eliminates bureaucratic processes. San Antonio offers the best solution on both counts.
In this commentary, a retired four-star Air Force general says Colorado Springs, Colorado, has always been the center of the military's space operations.
• Funding and building. While there are existing buildings that can host Space Command in the short term (including the current Colorado Spring facilities), none of these were built to the standards that our modern space command requires. Each proposed site will require new construction to avoid compromising the mission. Port San Antonio is a political subdivision of Texas, not a federal installation. Therefore, it can deliver a newly built, customized, and fully force-protected facility at commercial pricing and without the delays inherent in federal military construction programs. The dollar savings are material. However, the real benefit is time. The recently built U.S. Strategic Command Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base took 12 years to deliver and cost $1.3 billion. We are in a race — years matter and any location other than San Antonio puts us behind.
• Manning. Few communities outside Washington, D.C., host the number and diversity of joint personnel that call San Antonio home. Joint Base San Antonio, the military’s largest joint base, hosts over 200 missions from all services, including the Brooke Army Medical Center, the 16th Air Force, and the Navy Medicine Education, Training, and Logistics Command. San Antonio also hosts other agencies, including the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, that will augment Space Command’s mission.
• Operating. Port San Antonio sits on Kelly Field (which supports current flight operations) providing quick access to the globe from San Antonio’s central location. The port and San Antonio also host world-class commercial and military cybersecurity capabilities that will help secure and defend Space Command’s networks and support a strong and resilient command and control enterprise.
• Sustaining. Port San Antonio offers a commercial lease structure that will ensure that the facility is consistently maintained and supported to commercial standards. This represents both a savings and a value to Space Command. Moreover, Port San Antonio has achieved recognition for its emerging technology campus and will soon open an innovation center featuring entertainment, education, and amenities far beyond those normally found on military installations. San Antonio itself is one of our nation’s great large cities with fantastic schools, medical facilities, and community support for military service members and their families. Similarly, San Antonio’s rapidly growing technology and aerospace sectors will facilitate Space Command’s ability to recruit and retain civilian workforce talent.
While Space Command does not directly conduct research and development or acquisitions, it cannot meet its responsibility to command space operations without ensuring that the forces under its control prioritize innovation, embrace the use of new and emerging technologies, and eliminate bureaucratic processes.
San Antonio and Texas offer unmatched opportunities to foster innovation in defense acquisition. Traditional defense acquisition cycles take months, if not years, and often involve only a few traditional defense contractors. Texas, by contrast, has embraced a model that connects commercial, academic, and government capabilities in a way that allows access to technologies and solutions at commercial speeds. The success of Army Futures Command in Austin, located just an hour north of San Antonio, has been enhanced by a vibrant commercial cluster exemplified by the National Security Innovation Council made up of commercial, academic, and military leaders from throughout the state.
Port San Antonio is itself a recognized innovation center. Recent successes include Plus One Robotics (which has received national attention for its supervised autonomy software allowing robots to be used in uncontrolled environments), XYREC (which has developed a laser ablation system using the world’s largest mobile robot and a 20kW laser), Reckon Point (which has been named by Aviation Week as one of eight startups in the world that are changing aviation), and the WEX Foundation (a space architect led student study funded by NASA that is developing a robotic mining and additive manufacturing system for lunar or Martian habitations).
Finally, San Antonio has truly earned the title “Military City, USA” with its end-to-end support of military missions and personnel. This brings Space Command and its people the strong community connections that it needs to comprehensively protect our nation and our interests.
San Antonio is one of the nation’s fastest growing cities and the technology and innovation sectors are truly exploding. The decision on where to locate U.S. Space Command involves a number of interrelated and complex elements and no other city satisfies these elements as thoroughly as does San Antonio. As Space Command defends U.S. vital interests in, from, and to space, San Antonio is ready to host the command with unmatched synergy and support.
Edward A. Rice Jr., is a retired four-star Air Force general and was commander of Air Education and Training Command from 2010 to 2013.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.