EGLIN AFB — Maneuvering by various members of Congress has potential implications for the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II fighter jet programs currently at Eglin Air Force Base.
First, with regard to the F-22 Raptor fighter jets moved to Eglin from Tyndall AFB in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, Virginia's congressional delegation sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson asking to relocate those aircraft and associated personnel to Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton Roads.
The state's two senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, and the state's 11-member bipartisan House delegation, want the F-22 flight and maintenance training units now moving to Eglin from Tyndall AFB to be moved to Joint Base Langley-Eustis. Those units — the 43rd Fighter Squadron, the 2nd Fighter Squadron and Detachment 4 of the 372nd Training Squadron — include 31 F-22s and 18 T-38 Talons, training jets used to help F-22 pilots hone air combat skills.
Counting pilots, maintenance personnel and support airmen, the units are bringing more than 500 people to Eglin AFB, a number that could expand to 800 by this summer, Eglin spokesman Andy Bourland said recently. The F-22 operations are being housed at Eglin under a federally approved "interim beddown" arrangement that could keep those operations at Eglin for as long as three years. In the interim, the Air Force will conduct an environmental assessment at a number of bases, yet unidentified, to find a permanent base for the displaced Tyndall units' personnel and equipment.
In their pitch, Virginia's congressional delegation argues "the existing ramp space and infrastructure at Langley ... would allow it to quickly receive aircraft at minimal additional cost." The letter points out that Joint Base Langley-Eustis, built to accommodate three squadrons, currently houses just two F-22 squadrons.
The delegation goes on to point out what it considers training advantages at Langley-Eustis, noting the "Virginia Air National Guard stands uniquely positioned to support the FTU (the F-22 Flight Training Units), with experienced instructors and maintainers well versed on (the F-22)." The Virginia Air National Guard's 192nd Fighter Wing at Langley-Eustis flies the F-22.
The letter also points to the U.S. military's Mid-Atlantic training ranges, over-ocean areas similar to the Gulf Test Range used by aircraft flying out of Eglin AFB and other area military bases. The Mid-Atlantic training ranges "provide an excellent opportunity to train with other ... aircraft in the region," the letter states.
F-35 FULL FUNDING REQUEST
In another development with possible implications for Eglin, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in a letter to President Trump asking for full funding for the F-35 procurement program. Eglin AFB is the home of F-35 testing and pilot and maintainer training for both U.S. forces and partner nations.
The letter contends that in recent years, "the DoD has underfunded the F-35 program and relied on Congress to fund increases in production, sustainment and modernization."
The F-35 program has experienced a number of problems, including difficulties in acquiring spare parts and a fuel-tube issue that grounded the entire fleet late last year while fixes were made.
The letter goes on to criticize a DoD plan in its budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year to purchase previous-generation F-15 fighter jets.
"Choosing to invest in these fighters, which we know are neither lethal nor survivable against today's advanced threats, would be a disservice to servicemembers and taxpayers," the letter notes, asking Trump for his support "and the support of the DoD in investing our defense funds in proven fifth-generation technology — like the F-35 — rather than technology that will be outdated before it even rolls off the production line."