The US Air Force is re-shuffling its fifth-generation fighter Formal Training Units (FTUs). Eglin AFB, Florida, is to expand its resident 33rd Fighter Wing, which will receive a second F-35A training unit in addition to the existing 58th Fighter Squadron ‘Gorillas’. Eglin was the F-35 initial joint training site and hosted USAF, US Navy and US Marine Corps Lightning IIs. The Marine Corps F-35Bs were relocated to MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, in 2014 and the Navy’s F-35Cs of VFA-101 ‘Grim Reapers’ have also now departed as the squadron closes down.
Brand new F-35As should begin arriving in the fall of 2021 to equip both resident FTUs, with the new squadron expected to reach full operational capability by spring 2023. Older Low Rate Initial Production F-35As from the 58th FS will move to Nellis AFB to re-form the 65th Aggressor Squadron.
The standup of the new unit at Eglin is predicated on the relocations of F-22A Raptor training from its temporary home at Eglin to Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. That move was announced in March but is pending the outcome of environmental analysis. The decision to locate additional F-35As at Eglin has triggered an 18-month delay in the activation of a fifth F-35A unit under the 56th FW at Luke AFB, Arizona. As a result, the new unit will not stand up until late-2023. Luke has already received nearly 90 of its planned complement of 144 F-35As.
Meanwhile, the USAF has wrapped up comparison testing between the F-35A and A-10C. The mandated trials evaluated performance in combat search-and-rescue, close air support and airborne forward air control missions. Although much of the testing was conducted in 2018, the final flights were carried out in March 2019. The test’s evaluated both aircraft against anti-aircraft weapons, man-portable air defense (MANPAD) systems and moving targets.
A full report on the evaluation will be delivered to the US Congress by the end of the year.
Full details of the USAF’s F-35 aggressor plans appear in the new July issue of Combat Aircraft, on sale from tomorrow. Check out our great subscription offers here to get the magazine delivered direct to your door: https://combataircraft.keypublishing.com/subscribe/