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More bases named to host F-35, K-46 and MQ-9 operations

The service chose Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, for the first Air Force Reserve-led F-35 base. Three other bases were named as possible alternates if a problem arises during the environmental impact process: Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida; and Whiteman AFB, Missouri. That environmental analysis must be completed before service officials formally announce a final decision.

"We selected the Air Force Reserve unit in Fort Worth because it is the location that meets all of the necessary training requirements at the lowest cost," said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James in a news release.  "Additionally, the location will provide mission synergy and access to an experienced workforce for recruiting as a result of its proximity to the F-35 manufacturing plant."

The Texas base should begin receiving its first F-35As in the mid-2020s.

Three active-duty installations — Hill AFB, Utah; Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom; and Eielson AFB, Alaska — and one Air National Guard base — Burlington Air Guard Station, Vermont — have been identified for F-35A basing.

In December, the Air Force announced the list of finalists for two more Guard bases that will host F-35 operations: Dannelly Field AGS,  Alabama; Gowen Field AGS, Idaho; Jacksonville AGS, Florida; Selfridge ANGB, Michigan; and Truax AGS, Wisconsin.

The preferred and alternate locations for the Air National Guard bases are expected to be selected this summer, and the F-35As are expected to begin arriving in the early to mid-2020s.

NEW RPA UNIT

A new MQ-9 Reaper group, including mission control elements, will be located at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, the Air Force announced.

The first airmen assigned to the new group are expected to begin arriving there in fiscal 2018, although no RPAs will be based there as a result of this decision, according to a news release.

The Air Force is considering another location to host an MQ-9 wing that includes up to 24 MQ-9s, launch and recovery elements, a mission control element, a maintenance group and support personnel.

The desire for additional locations for MQ-9 assignments was identified during surveys of officers and enlisted airmen as part of Air Combat Command’s Culture and Process Improvement Program, a series of initiatives to address challenges and stressors affecting the MQ-1/9 community.

"Shaw AFB was selected because it was the best option to help us diversify assignment opportunities for personnel within the MQ-9 enterprise, provide increased opportunities for leadership from within the community, and provide flexibility to enhance integration with other organizations and capabilities," James said.

"Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance continues to be the No. 1 most requested capability of combatant commanders, and I believe adding additional RPA locations will help our efforts to retain experienced RPA operators that contribute to this vital mission," she said.

Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, echoed James’ sentiments: "Remotely piloted aircraft and associated intelligence operations are and will remain a vital component for the national security of the United States and our allies. Providing additional RPA basing locations can provide greater development and quality of life opportunities so we can provide combatant commanders with the best trained operators to perform this critical mission."

Davis-Monthan; Moody AFB, Georgia; Mountain Home AFB, Idaho; and Offutt AFB, Nebraska were named as possible alternate locations for the RPA group and will be considered as part of the environmental impact analysis process, according to the Air Force.

A HOME FOR PAGASUS

Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst, New Jersey, and Travis AFB, California, have been selected as the preferred locations for the next two active duty KC-46A Pegasus bases. Twenty-four KC-46A aircraft will replace the legacy aircraft at each of those bases.

The two bases were chosen "because they meet all operational mission requirements at the best value for the Air Force and the American taxpayer and support our tanker recapitalization strategy," James said. "It is absolutely essential that we continue investing in the next generation of tanker aircraft so we have the aircraft necessary to maintain the nation’s global reach for years to come."

Fairchild AFB in Washington and Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, will be considered as reasonable alternatives during the environmental impact process before a final basing decision is made.

Altus AFB, Oklahoma; McConnell AFB, Kansas; Pease Air National Guard Station, New Hampshire; and Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina; have already been selected as future homes for the Pegasus, and the first KC-46As are expected to begin arriving at McConnell and Altus this fall.

"The KC-46 will afford combatant commanders extended refueling capacity and improved global reach, and enable timely joint-service response to humanitarian crises and contingency operations around the world,"  Goldfein, said in a news release. "In fact, in the fight against ISIL, the Air Force and joint and coalition partners depend on gas from our tankers.  In 2016, the coalition flew over 13,600 tanker sorties, fueling aircraft nearly 80,000 times, delivering about 800 million pounds of fuel."

The Air Force plans to divest its legacy tankers after growing the tanker fleet to meet its 479 tanker requirement.  The timeline is dependent on the KC-46 delivery schedule, but it is not anticipated to reach sufficient KC-46A fleet size and begin legacy divestment at the first location until 2019.

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