The Air Force has chosen Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, as its preferred alternative for a new wing of MQ-9 Reapers, service officials announced Tuesday evening.
Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, was named a reasonable alternative. The final basing decision will be made by the secretary of the Air Force only after an environmental analysis is complete.
Based on current projections, airmen are expected to begin arriving at the new location as early as 2020, with the first aircraft expected to arrive two years later.
“We selected Tyndall Air Force Base because it was the best location to meet the unique requirements of the MQ-9 Reaper,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson in a news release.
That includes fewer aircraft competing for air space, nearby training ranges, great weather and lower up-front costs, Wilson added.
This selection meets the goals of Air Combat Command’s Culture and Process Improvement Plan, which identified the need for additional basing locations to help 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 warfighter organizations and capabilities, according to the release.
“Remotely piloted aircraft and the intelligence capabilities supporting them remain vital to our national security and the security of our allies,” said Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein in the release. “Equally important is the increasing use of RPAs in defense of the homeland and response to humanitarian disaster, as we have seen recently with hurricanes and wildfires.
“Co-locating this wing with [U.S. Northern Command’s] Air Operations Center and 1st Air Force will bring increased capability to support Gen. Lori Robinson in addition to increasing lethality and giving our other combatant commanders the best trained operators possible,” Goldfein stated.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio hailed the decision.
“I have long advocated for the Air Force to base the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft in Florida, so I am very pleased it decided to do so,” Rubio said in a press release. “We look forward to welcoming 24 new aircraft and the more than 1,600 airmen and their families who will soon call the Florida panhandle area home.
“Florida’s military community plays a vital role in defending our nation, and the Reaper system is a key component of the Air Force’s global intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions,” he continued.
The service has been looking to expand operations of the MQ-9 Reaper outside of the current base, Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The basing process has been divided into two sections, known as “Base X” and “Base Y.”
Tyndall was selected as Base Y, which means it will be home to a full Reaper wing, with launch, recovery, mission control, maintenance and operations support elements.
In addition to Tyndall and Vandenberg, the finalists for Base Y included Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.
In January, the Air Force has announced that it had selected Shaw as the preferred location to base a new MQ-9 Reaper group, Base X, including mission control elements but no aircraft.
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; Moody Air Force Base, Georgia; Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho; and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, were named as reasonable alternatives, to be considered as part of the environmental impact analysis process.
“Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance continues to be the number one 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,” said then-Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.
In January, Rubio urged then-Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James to select one of the Florida bases under consideration, either Tyndall or Eglin, as the home base for the MQ-9 Reaper.