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Davis-Monthan passed over for new F-35, drone units

By DAVID WICHNER | The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson | Published: January 17, 2017

TUCSON, Ariz. (Tribune News Service) — Davis-Monthan Air Force Base has been passed over for now as a home to new drones or the F-35 Lightning II next-generation fighter jet.

After months of study and site visits, the Secretary of the Air Force announced that Shaw Air Force base in South Carolina is the “preferred” location to base a new MQ-9 Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft group.

Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, was named the preferred location for the first Air Force Reserve-led F-35 base.

D-M was a finalist for both missions and will be considered along with other finalists as “reasonable alternatives” during the environmental analysis process that must be completed before the Air Force makes a final basing decision.

Other F-35 site finalists were Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

The Air Force Reserve unit in Fort Worth was selected for the F-35 because it met all of the training requirements at the lowest cost, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a news release.

The base's close proximity to Lockheed Martin's F-35 assembly line in Fort Worth also will provide "mission synergy and access to an experienced workforce for recruiting," James added.

The other finalists for the drone site were Moody Air Force Base in Georgia; Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho; and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

The need for additional locations for Reaper units was identified during surveys of officers and enlisted airmen, as part of an Air Combat Command initiative to address quality of life issues that have made it difficult to attract and keep drone pilots.

"Shaw AFB was selected because it was the best option to help us diversify assignment opportunities for personnel within the MQ-9 enterprise, provide increased opportunities for leadership from within the community, and provide flexibility to enhance integration with other organizations and capabilities," James said.

Once a final site is selected, the first airmen assigned to the new drone group are expected to begin arriving there in fiscal year 2018, the Air Force said. No drones will be based at the location at the selected location, which will be a "mission control element" consisting of remote piloting operations.

Though Davis-Monthan may be high on the list for subsequent basings, the news is a blow to efforts to attract new missions to the D-M, as its mainstay A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jets are scheduled for retirement in phases by 2022.

dwichner@tucson.com

©2017 The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Ariz.)
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An A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft on display at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base's Heritage Park.
JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

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