Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., has been approved by the US Air Force (USAF) as the new location for the 325th Fighter Wing (FW), the F-22 training unit, following the completion of an environmental impact study.
The announcement is another step in the long process of moving Raptor training, which shifted across Florida from Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB) to Eglin AFB after Category 5 Hurricane Michael in October 2018. But, according to Air Force Magazine, while the study and approval mark a crucial step in the process, the move is not official just yet. Air Combat Command said it is still waiting on service leadership to finish its study into tactical aviation requirements, determining which and how many tactical aircraft it wants in the fleet moving forward (including Raptors, A-10 Warthogs and F-35A Lightning II fighter jets).
Once that is done, the USAF will make the final decisions on the 325th FW move, that has been temporarily housed at Eglin since October 2018.
The USAF in fact proposed making Langley the new home of the unit as part of its goal to consolidate its F-22s at fewer locations in the wake of Hurricane Michael.
That proposal came in March 2019 and was subject to the environmental impact study, which was estimated to take between 24 and 48 months.
The Congress was notified last week by the Air Force that the study was complete. It indicates that 28 F-22s and 16 T-38s would move to Langley, along with approximately 760 personnel, including 660 service members. A further 1,672 dependents would also be affected.
Langley is already home to the 1st Fighter Wing, which has two squadrons of F-22s and is responsible for a third of the F-22s in the Air Force.
But, as explained by Air Force Times, the service may also opt to retire the F-22 training planes instead of transferring the jets, amid concerns that the airframe would be vulnerable in high-tech combat with another country.
As we have already reported, speaking during the McAleese FY2022 Defense Programs Conference Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., Air Force Chief of Staff, said on May 12, 2021 that the USAF will cut its fighter inventory from seven fleets to four, and the F-22 is not on his short list.
Asked to clarify, an Air Force spokesperson said Brown is thinking very long-term and in the context of “a very small fleet,” which will become increasingly hard to support, especially as it passes the 25-year age mark in 2030. The F-22 will “eventually” retire from the inventory, she said, noting the F-22’s likely successor will be the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD).
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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