An F-35A Lightning II fighter jet assigned to the 388th Fighter Wing's 4th Fighter Squadron taxis during Red Flag 19-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., on February 6. Photo by R. Nial Bradshaw/U.S. Air Force
May 10 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force announced plans to reactivate an aggressor squadron and move 11 F-35A Lightning IIs to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada in an effort to improve training for the stealth fighter aircraft.
The Air Force announced Thursday it is reactivating the 65th Aggressor Squadron.
In addition, the Air Force revealed that Eglin Air Force Base in Florida is the preferred alternative to receive a second F-35A Lighting II training squadron.
Eglin AFB was the initial joint F-35 training site for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. In 2014, the Marine Corps relocated its F-35Bs, and earlier this year the Navy announced its plans to relocate F-35Cs.
Gen. Mike Holmes, Air Combat Command commander, had recommended improving training for fifth generation fighter tactics development and close-air support by adding F-35s to the fourth generation aircraft.
The Air Force decided to create a fifth generation aggressor squadron -- the 65th -- at Nellis AFB and move nine non-combat capable F-35A aircraft from Eglin AFB to the squadron. The reactivation of the aggressor squadron and the addition of aircraft will add approximately 194 military personnel and 37 contractors to the base.
"This move will allow us to repurpose early production F-35s to help train Airmen for the high end fight," said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson.
The 65th AS, which previously flew F-15 Eagle aircraft, was inactivated in September 2014.
"Aggressor squadrons have been honing the skills of Air Force pilots since the early 1970s," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. "They provide a dose of realism in air exercises and their training value is crucial. These F-35 aggressor aircraft will keep us ahead of adversaries for years to come."
New aircraft are planned to arrive at Nellis AFB beginning in early 2022. Aircraft transferring from Eglin AFB to Nellis AFB won't be moved until newly produced aircraft arrive at Eglin AFB to replace them, the Air Force said.
In addition, the Air Force also will assign two F-35As from Edwards AFB, Calif., to Nellis AFB to join the 24th Tactical Air Support Squadron, an F-16 Fighting Falcon squadron whose primary function is supporting and performing close-air support training.
Nellis hosts large Combat Air Forces exercises, U.S. Air Force Weapons School, Weapons Instructor Courses, a test and evaluation squadron and a close air support integration group.
Eglin will receive the additional F-35 training unit if a F-22 Raptor formal training unit temporarily operating at Eglin AFB is permanently moved to Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.
Last March, the Air Force revealed plans to move the F-22 training unit to JB Langley-Eustis, pending environmental analysis. The Air Force will make its final basing decision following compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulatory and planning processes.
At Eglin, as many as 500 new airmen will be added to the installation and will be under Eglin's 33rd Fighter Wing,
"By basing the next F-35A training squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, we are taking advantage of existing facilities and training air space," Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said.
The Air Force expects additional F-35As to begin arriving in the fall of 2021 and reach full operational capability by spring 2023.
"The F-35 is a game-changer with its unprecedented combination of lethality, survivability and adaptability," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said. "Bringing this new training squadron to Eglin allows us to expand fifth generation fighter training so we can dominate in any conflict."
The squadron has yet to be given a unit designation.
The wing now has 33 F-35s on its flightline and is authorized to have 59.
Stephens said an additional 24 F-35A primary aircraft and two backup inventory aircraft would not exceed the number of aircraft the wing is authorized to have.
"President Trump and Air Force Secretary Wilson have once again proven their deep and abiding commitment to the United States Armed Forces, especially in Northwest Florida," U.S. Rep. Mat Gaetz, a Republican who serves the district said in a statement, "Eglin Air Force Base has the capability to house, train, and equip our next generation of F-35 pilots. This is a tremendous victory for Florida's 1st Congressional District, and we stand proud to have them flying through our skies in Northwest Florida."