The Military in Florida: Real Money in Make-Believe
A phalanx of procurement offices in Orlando oversees some $4 billion in spending for simulation and training services for the U.S. military.
Five years later, when cost cuts forced the Navy to shutter its larger Orlando base — today that site is home to the Baldwin Park neighborhood — the training center, now a stand-alone base in its own right, was unaffected. Today, the Team Orlando complex has roughly 2,800 employees, most of them civilians, including engineers, scientists, psychologists and program managers who conduct research and development, establish training protocols and requirements and write multibillion- dollar contracts for the private sector to fight over.
Along with Team Orlando, the Central Florida Research Park houses Baptiste’s National Center for Simulation as well as numerous private simulation and training companies.
Capt. Erik Etz, the commanding officer for the Navy’s Orlando base, says all of the military branches have benefited from collaborating on training development and procurement. “We work with a lot of the same industry partners. We can work on programs together and components of programs,” he says, noting, for instance, that the Army and Marine Corps share a lot of the same needs for vehicle simulators. “We all look for ways to share information.”
Eager to preserve the region as a hub amid consolidation and base closings, central Florida leaders have gone on offense to play defense. Over the past 15 years, they have persuaded the state to spend roughly $150 million building or buying a series of surrounding office buildings in order to provide low-cost space to the military services, which have long since outgrown the de Florez building itself. Officials hope the last of the military personnel currently working in commercially rented space — mostly Army personnel — will be able to move into publicly subsidized space by the end of 2018. That would drop their lease costs from as much as $32 per square foot to as little as $5 per square foot.
“The tenants that are spending $32 a square foot are at significant risk because there is empty (military base) space all over the U.S.,” Baptiste says. “If they were to move the Army that’s here to Huntsville, they would take their $2 billion in contracting power with them. And industry would hemorrhage out of the research park.”
Modeling, simulation and training companies in the Central Florida Research Park:
» Dynamic Animation Systems: Based in northern Virginia, Dynamic Animation Systems specializes in PCbased, advanced 3-D graphics and virtual environment creation and visualization. Its flagship product is VICE — Virtual Interactive Combat Environment, a scalable, commercial off-the-shelf product designed to train cognitive skills for military, homeland security and law enforcement personnel facing actual and potential conflicts in urban, suburban and rural environments.
» LightPath Technologies: Based in Orlando, where it has 30,000 square feet of space — including a class-100 clean room — LightPath is a manufacturer of visible and infrared optical components and subsystems. Its products are used in industrial facilities, communications systems, medical devices, defense, testing and measurement.
» SimSTAFF Technical Services: A specialty staffing company that has been in business for more than 30 years, SimSTAFF provides skilled workers for the modeling, simulation and training industry, including contract, temporary, contract-to-hire and direct hire employees.
» Wearality: Founded by former Lockheed Martin engineers who developed virtual reality technology for the defense and aerospace industries, Wearality aims to translate the technology into wearable entertainment devices. Its products include the “Wearality Sky,” light-weight, foldable 3-D glasses that the company says “put a theater in your pocket.”
» Florida is home to about 198,000 military retirees, second only to Texas, according to a Department of Defense report.
» The Air Force recently chose Tyndall AFB near Panama City for its new MQ-9 Reaper drone warfare wing. Tyndall won out over other bases in California and South Carolina. The Reaper wing will have 24 drone aircraft and more than 1,600 airmen. Tyndall will host the drones starting in 2022, though airmen could begin arriving in 2020.
» In December, the Navy’s new littoral combat ship USS Little Rock headed to Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville after being commissioned in Buffalo, N.Y. The vessel brings to three the number of littoral combat ships stationed at Mayport. A fourth ship, the future USS Sioux City, will be commissioned in Annapolis, Md., before moving to Jacksonville. The speedy, near-shore ships are used for surface or anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasures.
» Last fall, eight additional KC-135 Stratotankers moved to MacDill AFB in Tampa, bringing about 250 personnel. MacDill now has 24 of the aerial refueling tankers.
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