October 4, 2004 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Half of the U.S. Air Force's F-16 fighter jets are likely slated for retirement by 2010, but the plan is not expected to affect the future of Cannon Air Force Base, an official with U.S Sen. Jeff Bingaman's office said last Thursday. Cannon is home to 80 F-16s, the only aircraft at the base.
Cannon based vipers with the commander's plane, block 30, #86-0366 in the foreground [Photo by SSgt. Daniel Short]
The Air Force is trying to reconfigure its fleets in order to adjust to its changing missions and budgetary concerns. This does not mean that Congress will agree to these plans. Its specifics won't be known until the Pentagon's 2006 budget is presented to Congress at the first of the year anyway.
The older block 30
model F-16s will be the first and most likely to be retired within the next six years. Because only a quarter of Cannon's aircraft are Block 30s this retirement plan will most likely not affect Cannon in the next Base Realignment and Closure process. Cannon is also very strong because of the airspace it has.
Officials are also hoping a newer generation aircraft like the F/A-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will take the place of the F-16s at Cannon. Cannon's proposed airspace expansion will be key in becoming home to those fighters should the retirement of F-16s become reality.
The proposed airspace expansion, also known as the New Mexico Training Range Initiative (NMTRI), would allow pilots to fly at supersonic speeds at medium altitudes (below 30,000 ft mean sea level) and expand airspace to 3,300 square miles from 2,600 square miles. The proposed expansion is slated to go to Congress for approval next fall.
NMTRI is a collaboration between the Office for Military Base Planning at the Economic Development Department, the Federal Aviation Administration, Holloman AFB
, Kirtland AFB, the New Mexico Air National Guard 150th Fighter Wing and White Sands Missile Range.
Cannon Air Force Base lies in the high plains of eastern New Mexico, near the Texas Panhandle.