The U.S. Air Force plans to change the names of two Florida military bases heavily involved in Space Force operations during a Wednesday ceremony with a guest list including Vice President Mike Pence.
The Air Force had quietly agreed with Congress not to change anything until the NDAA settles a way forward on Confederate base names.
The renaming ceremony has been ordered by top Trump administration officials as part of the Space Force’s first birthday. But U.S. officials familiar with the matter said the changes violate a gentleman’s agreement with congressional staffers who asked the military not to rename any bases until after President Donald Trump signs the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to openly discuss the renaming, which has not been publicly announced.
Patrick Air Force Base will be renamed Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station will be renamed Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, the officials said. Both bases are involved with launching military rockets on the cape.
The bases will still be overseen by the Department of the Air Force, which also oversees the Space Force. New signs at the base entrances will cost taxpayers $50,000, according to a person with knowledge of the plan.
Other high officials expected to attend the renaming ceremony include Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist; Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett; Gen. Jay Raymond, the chief of space operations; and Gen. C.Q. Brown, the Air Force chief of staff Pence, is also scheduled to chair a Wednesday meeting of the National Space Council at nearby Kennedy Space Center.
The ceremony will be held amid a record spike in coronavirus cases and public health officials’ pleas not to travel.
Since the Space Force creation, Air Force leaders have considered renaming space-focused bases to better reflect the missions performed there. Earlier this year, Raymond said the Space Force would forgo base renaming and their attendant gatherings until the need for social distancing subsides. The issue came up again in the fall when Air Force officials discussed renaming the bases as part of the Space Force’s first birthday on Dec. 20.
Instead, the Air Force forged an informal agreement with congressional staffers not to rename any military installations until after Trump signed the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. The bill contains legislation that would create a commission to oversee renaming of bases named after Confederate soldiers. Military officials are not opposed to the renaming of Patrick and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but they are concerned about the timing of this week’s event.
An Air Force spokeswoman declined to comment on the renaming. She deferred questions about this week’s National Space Council meeting to the White House. A National Space Council spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The House and Senate could vote on the bill as soon as this week. Trump has threatened to veto the legislation if it includes language to rename Confederate bases, and unless it repeals a law that protects social media companies.
Patrick Air Force Base is named after Maj. Gen. Mason Patrick, the first chief of the Army Air Corps.