A Nov. 16 email from Nelson's office notes his push for as much as $299.1 million federal defense spending in Florida, "including a special operations simulator facility at Eglin Air Force Base ... (and) a special operations simulator and fuselage training facility at Hurlburt Field. ..."

FORT WALTON BEACH — Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field could get a sizable share of the nearly $300 million included in the latest federal defense budget proposal for improvements to military bases in Florida, according to Sen. Bill Nelson.

The potential appropriations are included in the National Defense Authorization Act, a bill authorizing federal defense spending and setting policies on how the money is spent. Actual appropriations of defense dollars are handled in separate congressional action.

The NDAA and its call for nearly $700 billion in defense spending passed the Senate last week on a voice vote and was approved in the House in a 356-70 vote Nov. 14, with the support of the entire Florida delegation.

The bill is now on President Donald Trump's desk, and given the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, he is expected to sign it. Looking forward, there is some doubt as to how much defense funding will be available for the current fiscal year, because the nearly $700 billion in the legislation passed last week is far above the spending caps set in the Budget Control Act passed in 2011 during the administration of President Barack Obama.

According to media reports, the spending cap would limit basic defense spending. Money spent on overseas military missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere is exempt from the cap. In terms of dollars, without congressional action lfiting the caps, basic defense spending would be limited to $549 billion, far below the $634.2 billion in basic defense spending proposed in the National Defense Authorization act. 

A Nov. 16 email from Nelson's office notes his push for as much as $299.1 million federal defense spending in Florida, "including a special operations simulator facility at Eglin Air Force Base ... (and) a special operations simulator and fuselage training facility at Hurlburt Field. ..."

Nelson's email dovetails with a report from the  Department of Defense comptroller's office listing military construction initiatives within the U.S. Special Operations Command for the current fiscal year, including locations across the United States and at Yokota Air Base, a U.S. facility in Japan.

The SOC document lists an $11.7 million expenditure on a simulator and fuselage training facility at Hurlburt Field that the SOC indicates is needed to accommodate a couple training programs recently added to the work of the Hurlburt-based 19th Special Operations Squadron for the C-130, a four-engine turboprop aircraft. The C-130 plays a variety of roles, from transport to air assault to medical evacuation. According to the Special Operations Command, the simulator and training facility expenditures are designed to address the fact that facilities at Hurlburt aren't large enough for new C-130 weapons system training equipment.

The simulator and fuselage trainer will, the SOC contends, allow Hurlburt to meet its expanded C-130 training missions. Currently, expectations are that the simulator will arrive at Hurlburt in the 2020 fiscal year, according to the SOC documents.

The Eglin AFB simulator, budgeted at $5 million in the SOC list, is a Duke Field project designed to provide training in piloting and loading the C-146A, a twin-turboprop high-wing aircraft used by Special Operations Command to move small teams of troops and for other airlift duties.

Currently, the Air Force Special Operations Command sends more than 30 pilots each year to Canada for training in the Dornier 328, the civilian version of the C-146A, at a cost of $2.7 million annually. Additionally, according to the SOC document, the civilian simulator is not equipped to provide training to loadmasters.

Also in his email announcing the Florida funding included in the National Defense Authorization Act, Nelson, a Democrat, noted a potential $35 million allocation that could be used to improve military testing and training ranges around the country, including the Gulf Test Range in the Gulf of Mexico used by units at Eglin, Hurlburt and other installations around the United States. Any money spent in the Gulf Test Range would be used to update aging data-gatering equipment in the Gulf.   

The NDAA also includes a provision authored by Nelson that requires the Department of Defense to modernize the Air Force's rocket launch infrastructure and improve launch operations to make it easier for commercial space companies to launch more frequently from Florida's Cape Canaveral. 

Other Florida initiatives included in the defense funding bill include a fire station at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, a wastewater treatment plant at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville and a “Guardian Angel” facility at Patrick Air Force Base at Cape Canaveral, according to Sen. Nelson. "Guardian Angel" is an element of the Air Force's rescue work and includes training for personnel who may go missing during hostile action, to conduct recovery actions in both peace and war, and to work on reintegration of recovered personnel.