125th Fighter Wing is on the short list for basing the F-35A Lightning II

  • Published
  • By By Lt. Col. Brian M. Simpler and Brig. Gen. J. Kirk Martin
This is the first time in history that the Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve has been considered as a "concurrent and proportional" candidate for a brand new fighter. In years past, the Air Force normally based its newest jets exclusively at active duty bases.

"We are truly a Total Force and rely upon our Guard and Reserve partners to be an integral part of our operations," said Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley. "That is why we are integrating them into new and emerging mission sets. By considering the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command for inclusion in emerging mission areas and basing strategies, we capitalize on the experience and unique skill sets that (these) components contribute."

The F-35A is the Air Force version of the F-35, a fifth-generation conventional take-off stealth fighter with an emphasis on air-to-ground missions. The aircraft was designed to supplement and eventually replace legacy aircraft such as the F-15 and F-16, as well as complement the air-to-air mission of the F-22A Raptor. The avionics and stealth of the F-35A are intended to allow it to penetrate enemy surface-to-air missile defenses and destroy enemy threats on the ground and in the air.

The Joint development of Air Force, Navy, and Marine versions of the jet takes advantage of economies of scale and allows an estimated 80 percent commonality in parts. Data show that the F-35A should cost 40-50 percent less to operate and support than legacy aircraft. A combination of countermeasures, advanced avionics, low radar profile, and aircraft and weapons characteristics allow the F-35A to avoid, withstand and counter enemy threats.

The 125FW is on a list of six operational base candidates. The Air Force evaluated 205 potential locations for the F-35A and scored each one on their respective airspace, weather, runways, facilities, environmental and cost factors. The Air Force then applied "military judgment" criteria to narrow the list further. Besides Jacksonville, the other operational base candidates include Burlington Air Guard Station (AGS), Vt.; Hill AFB, Utah; Shaw AFB and McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C.; and Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.

"Consideration by the Air Force to bring the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Jacksonville's 125th Fighter Wing is important to the future of our military in Northeast Florida," said Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett, the Adjutant General of the Florida Guard. "The F-35 will allow us to perform our mission for the next 20 to 30 years, and an F-35 basing plan will create a synergistic mix of Active, Guard and Reserve units operating our newest 5th generation fighter aircraft.

"The Air Force is committed to being a good neighbor to the Jacksonville community - a community where our Airmen and their families live and work," the general added. "As this selection process moves forward, the Air Force and the Florida National Guard will continue to keep its members, community leaders, and the public informed at all levels."

In December 2009, an Air Combat Command F-35A basing evaluation team conducted a site survey of the 125 FW in order to determine the feasibility of placing an operational wing of Lightning II's at Wing. The Site Survey team evaluated the Wing's operations, logistics, maintenance, communications, facilities and security areas. Wing Commander Col. Bob Branyon said the 125FW met 100 percent of the objectives during the evaluation.

"The site survey went extremely well and the site survey team was impressed by our Wing," Branyon said.

The next step of the process is the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS will evaluate the impact of F-35A basing on factors such as noise levels, air quality, natural resources, socioeconomics, and hazardous waste. Jacksonville will be evaluated for basing either 18 or 24 Lightning II's. Public involvement is an essential part of the process, and a series of meetings will be held with the public to determine the scope of the environmental analysis. For the 125 FW, the first of a series of meetings was scheduled for Feb. 8-12 in Brunswick, Ga.; Jacksonville, Palatka, Lake Wales and Avon Park, Fla.

The Air Force plans to place 200 to 300 F-35A's in the inventory by 2017, and build 1,763 jets by 2035. According to Col. Branyon, "Basing the F-35A Lightning II at Jacksonville makes sense for our nation's defense. We have incredible flying training airspace, weather that is second-to-none and great facilities. Our outstanding citizen Airmen represents the best of the Air National Guard, and our track record of military excellence speaks for itself."

The Air Force should announce its basing decision in early 2011.