The U.S. Air Force has identified Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, as the candidate base for the F-22 Raptor formal training unit and associated T-38 aircraft, according to announcement made March 25, 2019, by the Secretary of the Air Force. The announcement also indicated the Air Force filed a notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to assess the potential environmental consequences of the proposed action in the federal register as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
“We are incredibly pleased the Air Force has identified Joint Base Langley-Eustis as a candidate base for the F-22 Raptor formal training unit,” said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. “This effort had the full force bipartisan support of Virginia’s Congressional Delegation, in particular Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Congressman Rob Wittman, as well as the Virginia General Assembly led by the Military and Veterans Caucus. Our thanks to all of them for helping us reach this point. This course of action will optimize the readiness and lethality of the overall F-22 force, and it is the most cost effective option to re-distribute the F-22s from Tyndall Air Force Base. We also see this as an opportunity to spur economic growth in the Commonwealth.”
This action could also create an opportunity for the Virginia Air National Guard to move from the classic association relationship with active duty Air Force to full ownership of its own F-22 fighter aircraft.
According to the release from the Secretary of the Air Force, an environmental impact statement typically takes 24-48 months to complete, and the Air Force will now conduct a site survey at Langley Air Force Base to ensure it meets all basing criteria before making a final decision.
After Hurricane Michael devastated Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, the previous site of the formal training unit, it was temporarily relocated to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, to expediently resume pilot production and leverage surviving F-22 infrastructure and existing personnel at Tyndall.
“The permanent solution must address readiness and pilot production by ensuring the F-22 FTU is set up at a location that optimizes readiness and supports the Secretary of Defense’s requirement to improve Mission Capability Rates to 80 percent,” the release indicated.
The Virginia Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Squadron and 192nd Maintenance Group are in what is called a classic association with the 1st Fighter Wing at JBLE, which currently houses two combat F-22 squadrons led by active duty personnel. As part of the classic association, the Virginia Air National Guard is responsible for 40 percent of the F-22 combat deployment capability at Langley, providing pilots and maintainers to support the mission.
In his letter of support to Senator Kaine, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins explained that Virginia Air National Guard pilot and maintainers have significant operational experience and overall readiness of the F-22 fleet would benefit from transferring aircraft to the Guard.
“If the VaANG were to become unit equipped and take ownership of one of the two combat squadrons, their proven skill and expertise would contribute more effectively to DoD’s focus on readiness and lethality,” Hopkins wrote. “This would be a significant and historic achievement for our Virginia Air National Guard, equalizing their flying mission status with the vast majority of the 54 states and territories.”