Nearly two months after Hurricane Michael devastated Tyndall Air Force Base in Northern Florida, the Air Force on Friday said it wants to rebuild the installation — so it can station three squadrons of F-35 fighters there.
But the change in plans, if approved, would mean operational F-22 Raptors from the 95th Fighter Squadron would not return to Tyndall.
The Air Force is asking Congress for supplemental funding to repair Tyndall’s damage, the service said in a release. Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said the amount of money is still being decided.
A preliminary evaluation showed Tyndall could accommodate up to three F-35 squadrons, the Air Force said. If Congress grants the supplemental repair funds and the F-35 basing is approved, F-35s could be based there beginning in 2023.
The move would mean operational F-22s that were formerly at Tyndall would be permanently moved to squadrons at other bases that are now temporarily housing them: Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. Those F-22 squadrons would grow from 21 to 24 fighters apiece to permanently accommodate the Tyndall aircraft.
“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. “We are talking with congressional leaders about this plan and will need their help with the supplemental funding needed to restore the base."
This decision will allow the Air Force to tailor the new construction at Tyndall to the best fit for F-35s, the Air Force said.
The 325th Fighter Wing, which was comprised of two F-22 squadrons, was located at Tyndall before the Oct. 10 storm. Most Tyndall aircraft evacuated before the storm hit, but 17 Raptors could not be flown and stayed behind, sustaining varying levels of damage that is now being repaired.
Nearly a month after the storm, Wilson said that F-22 training with the 43rd Fighter Squadron would be temporarily moved to nearby Eglin Air Force Base.
The Air Force said it will conduct a formal process to decide what will be the best location for the 43rd and its training mission.
The 95th has 21 F-22s and 36 active-duty airmen, the Air Force said last month, and its associated maintenance units have about 500 airmen.
F-35 basing decisions in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin, which have already been announced, will not be changed.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.