Saturday, September 29, 2007

Task force readies base for Joint Strike Fighter mission

By Lois Walsh, 96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFMCNS) — With the next generation of fighter aircraft slated to arrive here in less than three years, the Eglin F-35 Site Activation Task Force is already working to get the base ready.

Led by Col. George Ross and consisting of a 12-man joint service team, the SATAF has the formidable task of bedding down the JSF. The team’s primary responsibilities are vast; from managing a $400 million military construction budget for facilities to interfacing with multiple multi-service headquarters to meet everyone's training needs.

Assigning the mission of training new Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allied F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter pilots and maintainers to Eglin is the result of the Base Realignment and Closure Committee's 2005 directive.

While Colonel Ross is the single point of coordination between all stakeholders, he relies heavily on his team. He counts on their service-specific expertise to make things happen.

"There are a lot of requirements that come from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps headquarters and we execute to ensure the requirements are met," the colonel said.

For example, Lt. Commander Mike Williams works for the fleet integration team under the commander of the Naval Air Force. He is working closely with Pensacola Naval Air Station and Whiting Field to coordinates the Navy specific training such as field carrier landing practice.

Maj. Lee Kloos is the Air Force Education and Training Command's flying training representative and is responsible for developing and integrating the flying training syllabus for the pilots.

"We try to compartmentalize who does what, but we all have to look at the big picture and be familiar with cross-service activities," Colonel Ross said. "The best example is the work Marc Richard does integrating all the services' and Lockheed Martin's requirements into the design of the training and maintenance facilities."

The colonel recognizes that established units on Eglin, like the 46th Test Wing and the 96th Air Base wing, are huge players in the process. Even though the skies won't be filled with the 33rd Fighter Wing's F-35s for a while, that won't make range planning easier because of the F-35's mission.

"Our mission is going to be different from the existing F-15s, which is air-to-air," Colonel Ross said. "The F-35 has air-to-air and air-to-ground -- it's a multi-role fighter and we'll be utilizing both the land and water ranges for training."

Another big change will be passing the 33rd Fighter Wing's Air Combat Command to the Air Education and Training Command. Colonel Ross is well aware of the heritage of the wing's Nomads, which pleases the wing’s commander, Col. Russ Handy.

"It's absolutely awesome that the 33rd Fighter Wing’s heritage will be carried on as the flag is passed to the F-35 training mission," Colonel Handy said. "The Lightning II is a crucial ingredient to the future of air and space power dominance for the United States and our allies. To know every new F-35 pilot's first exposure to this new weapons system will be with a Nomad patch on his or her shoulder makes me very proud."

Colonel Ross said the lines of communication are open and the SATAF working groups are meeting and working well together to face the milestones head on.