Air Force eyes Holloman for more F-16 mission

An F-16 Fighting Falcon sits in a hangar prior to departure at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. May 13, 2015. F-16 students from the 311th Fighter Squadron, a tenant until from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., are currently flying night operations as part of their syllabus. During the night operations, the students are becoming familiarized with night vision goggles while performing combat training missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Emily A. Kenney/Released)

An F-16 Fighting Falcon sits in a hangar prior to departure at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. May 13, 2015. F-16 students from the 311th Fighter Squadron, a tenant until from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., are currently flying night operations as part of their syllabus. During the night operations, the students are becoming familiarized with night vision goggles while performing combat training missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Emily A. Kenney/Released)

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

Beginning this week, the Air Force will begin site surveys of Holloman and three other installations to accommodate the temporary re-location of F-16 Fighting Falcons from Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

The move is part of the Air Force’s interim plan to establish the first F-35A squadron at Hill as well as bolster F-16 fighter pilot training.

“If the Air Force selects Holloman, we would accept the increased mission with open arms,” said Col. Houston Cantwell, the 49th Wing commander. “By any measure, the 54th Fighter Group has been a wonderful partner, and we would love for the relationship here between the remotely-piloted and fighter communities to grow together even more.”

The surveys are evaluating the basing criteria needed to potentially establish an additional permanent Formal Training Unit. The Secretary of Air Force, Deborah Lee James, made the announcement Aug. 10 as part of her State of the Air Force address.

In her address, the secretary focused on the Air Force’s need to increase fighter pilot production as part of the service’s efforts to address its fighter pilot shortage. However, establishing permanent FTUs takes time.

Until then, to increase fighter pilot training, the F-16 aircraft at Hill AFB will be temporarily moved to augment pilot training at up to two of the existing F-16 training locations at Holloman AFB, Luke AFB, Kelly Air Guard Station or Tucson AGS.

The site surveys will examine each location’s operational requirements, infrastructure capacity, environmental considerations and potential costs.

If selected, the F-16s will begin migrating to Holloman as soon as the contract maintenance is in place.

The Air Force is considering all fighter bases with a runway of at least 8,000 feet for the long-term permanent solution. This means Air Education and Training Command will conduct site surveys at thirty-four locations, including Holloman, to assess operational requirements, potential impacts to existing missions, infrastructure, environmental considerations and manpower. They will also develop cost estimates.

If Holloman is selected as a permanent FTU location, F-16s and their training operations will begin arriving over the next few years.

The results of the long-term surveys will be released later this year.

“This long-term solution will be a deliberate process to find the best home for the F-16 FTU,” said Cantwell. “We’d be happy to be chosen, but I have full faith in our Air Force leadership to make the right decisions regardless of outcome.”