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Hurlburt Field, Tyndall AFB, Gulf Test Range in line for millions as bills make way through legislative process

Jim Thompson
jthompson@nwfdailynews.com
Northwest Florida Daily News

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. defense spending and policy bills for the upcoming fiscal year are making their way through the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, with millions of dollars in proposed funding for Northwest Florida military installations and initiatives in the balance.

The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in the near future, with the House working a little more slowly toward a full House vote on its version of the NDAA. Once the respective bills get approval in each chamber, the provisions will be reconciled into a single bill that will go to President Donald Trump’s desk.

The Senate version of the NDAA includes a significant proposed outlay for Hurlburt Field, headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). Proposed military construction funding of $83.1 million would include nearly $45 million for a Special Tactics Operations Facility.

Hurlburt Field is home to the 24th Special Operations Wing, the only Special Tactics wing in the Ar Force. The wing’s airmen are responsible for integrating air and ground forces across all of the U.S. military’s special operations. Among its specific operations are precision strike, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery operations.

Also included in the Senate version of the NDAA for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 is proposed $38.3 million outlay for construction of a special operations aircraft parking apron at Hurlburt Field. The apron will be capable of supporting aircraft loaded with munitions, including “new munitions to be used by the AFSOC fleet of aircraft,” according to a U.S. Special Operations Command military construction document.

Also included in the Senate version of the NDAA for the upcoming fiscal year is $15 million for the modernization of the Gulf Test Range, a 120,000-square-mile test range covering a wide swath of the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The range, overseen by the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, is used by an array of U.S. military services for munitions testing, training and other purposes.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., whose Northwest Florida District includes Eglin AFB, has been instrumental in the House of Representatives in securing funding for the modernization of the range, whose telemetry equipment is not fully capable of monitoring and recording the performance of the modern munitions tested in the range.

In comments on his efforts in the Senate to continue steering funding to the test range, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who also is responsible for much of the rest of the proposed NDAA funding for Northwest Florida, used a news release to call the range “critical to our national security and military readiness.”

The range is, however, under some threat as a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico is set to expire on June 30, 2022. Rubio and Florida’s other U.S. senator, Republican Rick Scott, have tried, thus far unsuccessfully, to get the moratorium extended.

The House passed a permanent moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico last year, but the Senate has taken no action on any extension of the moratorium.

The NDAA for the upcoming fiscal year does, however, include a provision championed by Scott that would require the Department of Defense to report on the importance of the Gulf Test Range.

Rubio, in other comments on his work on the NDAA for the 2021 fiscal year, said, “I also remain committed to ensuring Tyndall Air Force Base makes a full recovery from the damages suffered as a result of Hurricane Michael.”

Tyndall AFB was all but destroyed by the Category 5 hurricane that scored a direct hit on the base in October 2018. The base is being rebuilt as what the Air Force is calling an “installation of the future,” employing “smart building” technologies and introducing resiliency against serious weather events and other calamities.

The Senate version of the NDAA, which also addresses defense policy issues in addition to military funding, “gives guidance on the continuing reconstruction of the base,” Rubio noted in his recent news release.