The 301st Fighter Wing can expect facility construction as early as 2021 and expect the first F-35A aircraft to arrive in the summer of 2024.
The Secretary of the Air Force, the Honorable Barbara Barrett, issued her record of decision naming the 301st Fighter Wing, US NAS JRB Fort Worth, Texas, as the Air Force Reserve Command F-35A Lightning II operational beddown location on Jan. 8, 2021.
As told by Captain Jessica Gross, 301st Fighter Wing public affairs, in the article 301st Fighter Wing F-35A Lightning II Selection, the 301 FW will be the first AFRC unit to own, maintain, and operate the F-35A mission in the major command’s history.
“We are excited and honored to be the first Air Force Reserve wing to host this incredible weapon system,” said 301 FW Commander Col. Allen Duckworth. “Our Airmen are ready to incorporate the F-35 missions into our wing’s proud tradition of defending this great nation. The hard work has already begun and we have a tremendous team, from our joint program office to the local community, tackling the challenge of preparing for this next chapter.”
The wing’s rich history dates back to October 5th, 1944 in the height of World War II, when it was constituted under the First Air Force, initially at Seymour-Johnson Field, N.C., before moving to Mitchel Field on Long Island, N.Y., in November. In the years since, the 301 FW has been home to the Republic P-47N Thunderbolt, Republic F-105 “Thunderchief”, McDonnell-Douglas F-4D Phantom II, and the Wing McDonnell F-4E Phantom II. Today, the 301st FW is under the 10th Air Force and is home of the F-16C/D, “Fighting Falcon”.
The 301 FW is mainly comprised of Reserve Citizen Airmen, with the mission to train and deploy combat-ready Airmen. The wing is the only AFRC fighter unit in the state of Texas and provides combatant commanders with the combat ready warriors needed to fight and win America’s wars, and protect U.S. and their allies’ worldwide interests.
The transition from one Air Force aircraft to another within a wing is a lengthy process, filled with a series of steps towards the ultimate record of decision (ROD) issued by the secretary of the Air Force.
“Every single unit within the wing will be affected by the SECAF’s selection,” said Maj. Matthew “Rage” Strongin, 301st Fighter Wing F-35 Program Integration Office director. “From personnel, finance, services, engineering, operations, security and maintenance… everyone is involved. From my perspective, the F-35 is not coming—it’s already here and we will retrain our Airmen in a variety of skillsets as we prepare the equipment, aircraft, and processes to meet USAF requirements.”
Beginning in 2016, the 301st Fighter Wing was examined through a site survey and determined as a “feasible” location to receive the F-35A mission set. The wing then began preparation for possible selection of the fifth generation fighter. Between the years of 2018 to 2020, an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) was generated based on National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations.
Along with three other locations, U.S. NAS JRB Fort Worth underwent an EIS which included a Public Hearing on March 5, 2020 and a public comment period that concluded in August 2020. Site survey results, along with comments and documents associated to the EIS were received by the secretary of the Air Force for decision in August 2020 and served as the basis for Barrett’s ultimate selection of the 301st Fighter Wing.
“I’m extremely proud of our team of F-35 experts collaborating with the command, industry, and our mission partners within the wing. Texas offers us outstanding community support and I am excited to continue that relationship for years to come,” said Strongin. “The strategic basing decision is an important milestone on our journey toward the Air Force’s premier fighter.”
The F-35A beddown process is projected to extend over a 9-10 year time-span with the planning and consideration phase beginning in 2016. The 301st Fighter Wing can expect facility construction as early as 2021 and expect the first F-35A aircraft to arrive in the summer of 2024.
The F-35A is the US Air Force’s latest fifth-generation fighter. It will replace the U.S. Air Force’s aging fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, which have been the primary fighter aircraft for more than 20 years, and bring with it an enhanced capability to survive in the advanced threat environment in which it was designed to operate. With its aerodynamic performance and advanced integrated avionics, the F-35A will provide next-generation stealth, enhanced situational awareness, and reduced vulnerability for the US and allied nations.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force graphic by 301st Fighter Wing Public Affairs and U.S. Air Force