To combat the ongoing shortage of fighter pilots, the Air Force will stand up two interim F-16 pilot training squadrons at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, service officials announced Thursday.
About 40 to 45 Fighting Falcons, plus 800 training and support staff airmen, are being relocated from Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
Because the service cannot permanently base formal training units without first conducting an environmental impact analysis, cost-benefit analysis and other site surveys, service officials announced their plan for an interim solution in August. A final decision will be made in the spring or summer of 2017.
Other bases considered included Luke Air Force Base and Tucson Air National Guard Base in Arizona, and Kelly Field Annex at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
Due to increasingly limited space, the F-16 Falcons at Hill have needed to exit the base for quite some time. The pilots and crews at Hill have been putting the fifth-generation F-35 through its paces for a few years. Eventually, the base is looking to set up three full F-35 squadrons with a total of 78 aircraft by 2019.
The 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill fly and maintain the Air Force’s newest fighter jet in a Total Force partnership that capitalizes on the strengths of the active duty and Reserve components
The decision to put the interim pilot training squadrons at Holloman was announced by Undersecretary of the Air Force Lisa Disbrow in a conference call with New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Rep. Steve Pearce.
The three legislators have cited Holloman’s unmatched airspace, the base’s existing mission as a premier F-16 training location and a surrounding community that is ready and eager to welcome the new squadrons, service members and families.
"In choosing to relocate these F-16 squadrons to Holloman Air Force Base, the Air Force has made a decision that will enormously benefit our national security, our service-members and their families, and New Mexico’s economy," Udall said in a press release. "Holloman is already excelling in its current F-16 mission, and I have every confidence that the base will continue to thrive as a training site for these new squadrons.
The fighter pilot shortage, which Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has termed a "quiet crisis," has grown from about 500 to 700 over the past year – representing roughly a 21 percent shortfall. It stems from reductions in force structure, personnel cuts and increasing competition for pilots from the civilian airline industry.
In an Aug. 23 interview at the Pentagon, Maj. Gen. Scott Vander Hamm, assistant deputy chief of staff for operations at Air Force headquarters, said that if nothing is done to stop it, the shortage could swell to about 1,000 pilots by 2022.
Staff writers Oriana Pawlyk and Stephen Losey, and reporter Jacqueline Devine of the Alamogordo Daily News, contributed to this report.