An A-10 Thunderbolt II and F-35 Lightning II fly side by side over Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, in October 2020.

An A-10 Thunderbolt II and F-35 Lightning II fly side by side over Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, in October 2020. (David Phaff/U.S. Air Force)

ATLANTA — The Air Force will base F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter jets at Moody Air Force Base in the coming years as the installation retires its A-10 attack aircraft, the service announced Monday.

The Air Force will base two squadrons of the service’s most advanced fighters at the south Georgia base with the first aircraft set to arrive in fiscal 2027, according to the announcement. The decision comes as Congress appeared poised to allow the Air Force to retire much of its fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, affectionately known as Warthogs, a move long requested by the service.

“The decision to host the F-35 mission at Moody AFB came after assessing the area’s ability to facilitate the mission and infrastructure capacity, while accounting for community support, environmental factors and cost,” the Air Force said.

Basing the two F-35 squadrons at Moody will require an increase of about 500 troops at the base, the service said. It was not immediately clear Tuesday what kind of infrastructure improvements might be needed to house the fifth-generation fighters.

The service said it will soon launch an environmental impact study to ensure Moody can safely house the F-35s. That analysis is expected to be completed by fall 2025, according to the Air Force.

The plan comes as the Air Force intends to retire the 54 A-10s now housed at the base. The popular attack jets have been based at Moody since 2009. The base is home to the 23rd Fighter Group and the 476th Fighter Group of the Air Force Reserve.

Congress appeared likely to approve an Air Force plan to retire 42 of its 281 A-10s, including six from Moody through fiscal 2024, based on legislation approved by key panels last week in both chambers. Moody’s remaining 48 A-10s would be retired by fiscal 2028, and simultaneously replaced by F-35s, according to the service plan.

Congress has pushed back for years on Air Force plans to scrap its A-10s, largely because no other U.S. aircraft matches its precise mission to provide close air support to ground troops in combat. But the Senate and House Armed Services committees last week approved A-10 retirement plans included in their versions of the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act. The NDAA, an annual bill that sets policy and spending priorities for the Pentagon, must be passed by both chambers and reconciled before it can be signed into law by the president.

The A-10s are beloved by front-line ground forces who relied on them in combat in the Middle East and Afghanistan for many years. Air Force officials, however, have said the more than 50-year-old jet has outlived its use and would fare poorly in a conventional fight with a near-peer power such as China or Russia.

They have argued the F-35A — the most expensive fighter jet ever built — can provide close air support, among the dozens of other types of missions that it is capable of flying.

“The F-35A brings an enhanced capability to survive in the advanced threat environment in which it was designed to operate,” the service’s Moody announcement said. “With its aerodynamic performance and advanced integrated avionics, the F-35A provides next-generation stealth, enhanced situational awareness and reduced vulnerability.”

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., applauded the Moody decision in a statement Monday, calling the decision a “major step forward” for the base.

“Moody is a critical national security asset and a vital job creator for South Georgia,” he said. “The men and women who serve at Moody are among the finest in our armed forces.”

The Air Force also announced Monday that Gowen Field Air National Guard Base in Idaho will receive F-16s to replace the A-10s based there. Its A-10s are expected to begin retiring in fall 2026, and F-16 Fighting Falcon fourth generation aircraft will start to arrive in spring 2027, according to the service.

author picture
Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now