Dayton’s space bid aimed high but fell short, for now

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Two set-backs come as Dayton’s Wright-Patt backers aim high for influence and job-creating programs

A pair of recent decisions with national implications appeared to dent the Dayton area’s significance for national defense.

First, the Air Force revealed a list of finalist locations for the basing of Space Command headquarters. The list did not include Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Next, a standing committee of the House Republican conference did not select Dayton’s congressman, Mike Turner, to serve as the Armed Services Committee’s highest ranking GOP member. He had sought the position, but lost out to U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala.

But outside analysts and advocates close to Dayton say the decisions are unrelated and neither should be surprising given the region’s soaring ambitions.

“This is an example of Ohio very aggressively pursuing advantages and new opportunities,” said Michael Gessel, who represents the Dayton Development Coalition in the nation’s capital. “And when you are bold and aggressive, you don’t win everything.”

‘We were an underdog’

Publicly and privately, coalition leaders long acknowledged that the pursuit of Space Command headquarters and its expected 1,400 associated jobs may have been seen as something of a long shot for Wright-Patterson and the Dayton area.

Nevertheless, since May, when the Pentagon invited states and metro areas to compete to host the headquarters, the coalition and others made the case for Dayton. The effort in the end won unanimous support from Ohio government leaders and legislators.

“We were going outside of our comfort zone,” Gessel said. “We were an underdog going into that. And we pursued it very aggressively anyway. And guess what? We didn’t win.”

Mark Cancian, senior adviser in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), always felt the odds were against Dayton in that contest.

Cancian told the Dayton Daily News last summer that he believed Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. will ultimately retain the headquarters. And in November, Peterson was revealed to be on the list of finalists. (The other five finalists are Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; Patrick Air Force Base, Florida; Redstone Army Airfield, Alabama; Joint Base San Antonio, Texas; and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.)

The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in October 2019. The X-37B OTV is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. (Courtesy photo)
The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in October 2019. The X-37B OTV is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. (Courtesy photo)

Cancian wasn’t alone in that belief.

“As far as Space Command, that was always likely to go to Colorado Springs, and it still is,” said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at CSIS, where he and Cancian are colleagues.

“I think Dayton is just very much an Air Force base,” Cancian said. “And that’s a good thing. The Air Force is still going to be around, and it’s going to be much, much larger than Space Force.”

Cancian believes Space Command and Space Force — separate but tied to the mission of defending the United States in the space domain — wish to develop a “distinctive image, a distinctive culture,” separate from the Air Force.

Peterson, which has the headquarters, is already the “center of gravity” for joint space activities, said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute.

“It is important to understand that the entire Space Force budget is less than a tenth of Air Force spending,” Thompson also said. “Air power is a much bigger focus of the military budget, and Wright Patt remains the home of the command that buys both aircraft and munitions.”

He added: “The loss to the Dayton area of a command headquarters that in fact was never located there in the first place is not a major blow.”

Dayton Development Coalition leaders go to bed thinking about Wright-Patterson’s future and rise thinking about Wright-Patterson’s future, said Jeff Hoagland, the coalition’s president and chief executive.

While the area did not win the headquarters, it did pick up what will be the National Space Intelligence Center and it retained the larger and still growing NASIC — the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, which will continue to cultivate and analyze intelligence related to space and air threats for both the Air Force and Space Force, America’s newest military branch.

“We kept what we had and we got the Space Intelligence Center,” Hoagland said.

Armed Services ranking member

Last week the House Republican Steering Committee chose U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, of Alabama, to be the top House Armed Services Republican.

That means U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, was not chosen.

Such losses are not uncommon. All Ohio members who ran for a top committee position in the past few months lost. The current GOP Armed Services ranking member, Mac Thornberry, of Texas, ran three times for the slot before finally winning it. (Thornberry is now term-limited out of the ranking membership.)

Those who spoke with the Dayton Daily News for this story said Turner continues to command respect in the House.

Turner “is an exceptionally thoughtful expert on military matters who has worked hard to protect jobs at Wright Patterson Air Force Base,” Thompson said. “Losing the race for ranking member on the armed services committee does not diminish his influence, but it does deny him the next step up to star status on Capitol Hill.”

“Everything I know is that he is very well respected by his colleagues in the House when it comes to defense issues,” said Harrison, with the CSIS Aerospace Security Project.

“As a senior member of both the Armed Services and the Intelligence committees, Mike is a steadfast leader in our conference on rebuilding and modernizing our military. Having been Mike’s guest at Wright-Patt, I can tell you firsthand how effective of an advocate for this critical base he is,” House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement to this newspaper.

However, Harrison added that Turner “was an outspoken opponent of Space Force, and that may have hurt him” in his bid.

What Turner opposed was a much earlier iteration of the concept for a new, separate, space-focused service, opposition that at the time he shared with then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, as well as key senators.

Turner told Defense News early last year that when the proposal for what became Space Force was first presented, “they wouldn’t tell us what was going to be in it, how much it was going to cost or what it was going to do. We were told it was going to cost nothing. I knew that was not the case.”

In an interview last week, Turner told the Dayton Daily News that the ranking member choice came down to regional representation and pressures. He rejected the idea that the decision had any connection to Space Force.

“Ohio continues to be in competition with Alabama in many areas, and we’re going to continue to compete,” Turner said.

The Dayton area will also continue striving, the region’s advocates say. Gessel again reached for the sports metaphor.

“Goals are a function of shots,” he said “We’re going after this stuff.”

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