The Air Force plans to host three F-35 squadrons at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, and is seeking supplemental funding to rebuild the base in order to receive the Joint Strike Fighter, the service announced Dec. 7.
If the decision is approved and supplemental funds are appropriated, F-35s could be based at Tyndall by 2023, the service said. The funds would be appropriated as part of a fiscal year 2019 supplemental package, the service told Defense Daily in an email Friday.
Basing has already been announced in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin and those squadrons are not impacted by this decision, the service’s statement said.
The F-22 Raptor fighters currently stationed at Tyndall will be moved to other operational bases, with squadron sizes increasing from 21 to 24 assigned aircraft, the Air Force said.
“We have recommended that the best path forward to increase readiness and use money wisely is to consolidate the operational F-22s formerly at Tyndall in Alaska, Hawaii and Virginia, and make the decision now to put the next three squadrons of F-35s beyond those for which we have already made decisions at Tyndall,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a statement.
Before Hurricane Michael swept through the region, Tyndall hosted two F-22 squadrons – one operational and one training – under the 325th Fighter Wing. The Air Force plans to conduct a formal process to select the best location for the F-22 training squadron that was displaced to Eglin AFB, Fla., following the hurricane. Eglin is home to the Integrated Training Center at the 33rd Fighter Wing, which provides pilot and maintainer training for all three variants of the F-35.
The decision to base F-35 aircraft at Tyndall could help save funds, the Air Force said. It will allow the service to use recovery funds “to re-build the base in a tailored way to accommodate the unique needs of the F-35.”
The consolidation of F-22 squadrons is also expected to drive efficiencies as the Air Force works to address the Raptor’s readiness rate and address recommendations from a recent Government Accountability Office report, one among which identified “small unit size” as a challenge to readiness.
“We have been given a chance to use this current challenge as an opportunity to further improve our lethality and readiness in support of the National Defense Strategy,” said Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein.
About 95 percent of the buildings on base were damaged when Hurricane Michael swept through the region Oct. 10. More than 2,000 personnel have since returned to the base and the Air Force intends to keep the testing, air operations center, and civil engineer missions going at Tyndall AFB, the service said.
Air Force officials and Vice President Mike Pence have emphasized the base’s importance to the region and stated that it would be rebuilt. It has access to 130,000 square miles of airspace over the Gulf of Mexico, the Air Force said.
Wilson said the services are in talks with congressional leaders about the plan to move F-35s, “and will need their help with the supplemental funding needed to restore the base.”