The Air Force has picked its preferred locations to host more F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, MQ-9 Reaper drones and KC-46 tankers.
Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, will be the first Reserve base to host the F-35A, the service announced Thursday. NAS Fort Worth — near Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 production factory — is expected to receive its first F-35s in the mid-2020s, the announcement said.
“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,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said.
In April, the service had also identified Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona; Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida; and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri as potential hosts for the first Reserve-led stealth fighters. The bases will now act as alternatives while the Air Force is in the process of conducting an environmental analysis at Fort Worth.
The installations currently house F-16 Fighting Falcon or A-10 Thunderbolt II squadrons. The plan is to repurpose the aircraft to other bases, which could help boost the fighter pilot shortage, officials have said.
Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, will host a new MQ-9 Reaper group, the Air Force said, but only for mission control elements.
In September, the Air Force announced eight potential bases to host new drone units as the service moves to transition from the MQ-1 Predator to the larger MQ-9. The service is conducting additional environmental studies at Eglin AFB, Florida; Tyndall AFB, also in Florida; Vandenberg AFB, California; and Shaw AFB to host a full MQ-9 wing, as well as a maintenance group and operations support personnel, the service said.
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The Air Force has not yet decided on the location for the remotely piloted aircraft units.
The airmen flying the remotely piloted aircraft at Shaw will begin their duties in 2018, the announcement said.
Lastly, 24 KC-46A tankers will replace current tanker fleets at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, and Travis AFB, California.
Fairchild AFB, Washington, and Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, will be backup alternatives, the service said.
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The move comes as the service hopes to retire some of its legacy aerial refueling fleet, such as the 60-plus-year-old KC-135 Stratotanker, and grow with the new Boeing-made fleet to meet its 479 tanker requirement.
However, with previous program delays and no solid timeline for when the first KC-46 may be delivered, the Pegasus won’t even begin to join the Air Force’s fleet until at least 2019.
Boeing, awarded the contract in 2011, plans to build 179 of the 767-based tankers for the service.