Air Force Proposes Relocating F-22 Training Schoolhouse to Virginia

F-22 Raptors from the 1st Fighter Wing and 192nd Fighter Wing participate in a total force exercise at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, on Feb. 28, 2019. Both wings partnered with the 633rd Air Base Wing during the Phase I exercise to showcase the readiness and deployability of the F-22s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Carlin Leslie)
F-22 Raptors from the 1st Fighter Wing and 192nd Fighter Wing participate in a total force exercise at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, on Feb. 28, 2019. Both wings partnered with the 633rd Air Base Wing during the Phase I exercise to showcase the readiness and deployability of the F-22s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Carlin Leslie)

The Air Force has proposed permanently moving its F-22 Raptor training schoolhouse to Virginia.

The service wants to make Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, the formal training unit base for its stealth fighter jets and associated T-38 Talon aircraft, according to a statement released this week.

Pending an environmental survey in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, which will take 24 to 48 months to complete, the service will move the fifth-generation jets to JBLE. The F-22 training unit, originally housed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, was relocated to Eglin Air Force Base after the base sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Michael last year.

Relocating the unit will help achieve maximum performance and use of the jet, the Air Force said, in turn boosting readiness goals.

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Last July, the Government Accountability Office said the F-22 is rarely employed to its fullest potential, due to maintenance challenges and fewer opportunities for pilot training, as well as the fleet's inefficient organizational structure. Consolidating the fleet into larger squadrons and/or wings would create a higher aircraft availability rate, the GAO said.

The news comes after Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, began petitioning Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in February to consider moving F-22 formal training units (FTU) such as the 43rd Fighter Squadron to their state for training and maintenance operations, as well as potential recruiting efforts.

"Beyond the existing ramp space and infrastructure at Langley that would allow it to quickly receive aircraft at minimal additional cost, a decision to move the F-22 FTU to Langley would leverage a number of key benefits that Langley and the surrounding areas have," the lawmakers said in a letter Feb. 15.

"The Hampton Roads area has a long history of supporting our nation's military and their families, and would provide strong recruiting and retention ability," they wrote.

Following Hurricane Michael, which damaged most structures at Tyndall as well as dozens of stealth jets, the Air Force moved its remaining F-22 fleet, dividing the aircraft between Langley-Eustis; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

Eglin, located roughly 60 miles from Tyndall in the Florida panhandle, also took some of Tyndall's F-22s and T-38 trainers.

If the move is approved, the F-22s from Florida would join up with the Virginia Air National Guard's 192nd Fighter Wing, which flies F-22 Raptors.

JBLE would allow for more collaboration and exercises with nearby F-15 Eagle/Strike Eagle units as well as F-16 Fighting Falcon units, the lawmakers said.

"We ask that you give full consideration to Joint Base Langley-Eustis as a host to this mission," they wrote.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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