Storm-damaged Tyndall eyed for F-35

The Air Force is considering assigning F-35s to the base damaged by
Hurricane Michael, while maintaining its critical training mission for the F-22...


Staff reports
December 2018

It was one of the most unexpected developments in the wake of Hurricane Michael,
the Air Force now wants to base up to three squadrons of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters
at Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City, Fla.

The mayors of small towns in eastern Bay County bordering Tyndall Air Force Base
say they’re happy about the F-35 squadrons likely arriving, according to the Panama
City News Herald.

The towns of Callaway, Springfield and Parker lost residents and suffered damage
from the hurricane, so Tyndall bouncing back is good news.

“Being this close, it will affect our housing and redevelopment after our storm
damage,” Springfield Mayor Ralph Hammond said.

“We know nothing’s final until it happens, but this would be an incredible impact to
our community,” Parker Mayor Rich Musgrave said. “There are many local
businesses that relied on military customers and I’m sure this will help speed those
business’ recovery.”

It was obvious as the October hurricane approached that it would have a big impact
on Tyndall, home of the 325th Fighter Wing, comprised of two F-22 squadrons - one
operational and the other training. Other tenants included the 1st Air Force, the 53rd
Weapons Evaluation Group, and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.

Before the hurricane arrived, Col. Brian Laidlaw, 325th Fighter Wing commander,
ordered an evacuation of all but the ride-out team of nearly 100 personnel, which
included first responders, base leadership and command post personnel.

As is usual procedure, assets that could be moved to safety were, including F-22 and
T-38 aircraft. The hurricane slammed the area with fierce winds and rain and caused
damage to 95 percent of the buildings at Tyndall.

The base’s hangars and flight operations buildings suffered some of the greatest
damage from the storm passing directly overhead. Among the assets damaged were
some of the F-22s that could not fly to safety because they were in various states of
repair and maintenance. Later it was determined
the F-22s suffered little damage and could fly away for repairs.

Still, the damage to Tyndall caused a good deal of concern from local officials over
what would become of the base that’s so important to the region’s economy. But the
initial concern was soon calmed.

On Oct. 25, Vice President Mike Pence assessed the damage to the base and
reassured the community of the base's importance to the nation.

“We will rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base,” Pence said.

Tyndall’s access to 130,000 square miles of airspace over the Gulf of Mexico is very
valuable for military training.

“We have been given a chance to use this current challenge as an opportunity to
further improve our lethality and readiness in support of the National Defense
Strategy,” said Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson announced Nov. 2 that a number of
important missions will resume at Tyndall in the next few months and others will shift
to other locations for the time being. All but some 500 airmen will return to Tyndall.

Wilson said the units that will remain at Tyndall include the 601st Air Force
Operations Center, the 337th Air Control Squadron, the Air Force Medical Agency
Support team, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the 53rd Air-to-Air Weapons
Evaluation Group, the Air Force Legal Operations Agency, the 823rd Red Horse
Squadron, Detachment 1 and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.

While people were concentrating on Tyndall returning to what it had been, the Air
Force had a new twist in mind.

The service recommended that Congress use supplemental funding for rebuilding
the base for up to three squadrons of the fifth-generation F-35A fighters. The
preliminary evaluation confirms Tyndall can accommodate the three squadrons of 72
aircraft.

“We have recommended that the best path forward to increase readiness and use
money wisely is to consolidate the operational F-22s formerly at Tyndall in Alaska,
Hawaii and Virginia, and make the decision now to put the next three squadrons of F-
35s beyond those for which we have already made decisions at Tyndall,” said
Wilson.

“We are talking with Congressional leaders about this plan and will need their help
with the supplemental funding needed to restore the base,” she added.

If approved and funded, F-35s could be based at Tyndall in 2023.

More than 2,000 personnel have since returned to the base and the Air Force
intends to keep the testing, air operations center, and civil engineer missions at
Tyndall. The recommendation announced in December only affects the operational
fighter flying mission at the base.

Members of the Florida Defense Support Task Force in October toured Tyndall to
see the damage first-hand. The task force, which has an interest in all military
installations in the state, offers support on a state level. Rep. Neal Dunn said the
rebuild will mean a brand new Tyndall, updated to the needs of the 21st century.
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