September 27, 2007 (by Lois Walsh) - The next generation of fighter aircraft is slated to arrive at Eglin AFB in less than three years and the base is getting ready.
F-35 Lightning II in flight. This will become a common site over the skies of Eglin AFB in 3 years time
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.
In July, Major Gen. Erwin Lessel, Air Education Training Command's Director of Plans, Requirements and Programs established the Eglin F-35 Site Activation Task Force, or SATAF, under the lead of Col. George Ross. Colonel Ross, along with a 12-man joint service team, has the formidable task of bedding down the JSF
The colonel came to Eglin after completing Naval War College and a tour as deputy chief of the Fighter and Bomber Division for the Secretary of the Air Force, Acquisition.
"I'm a bomber pilot and very honored to bring the newest fifth generation fighter to Eglin for both pilot and maintainer training. The JSF will be the work horse of the United States' and our partner countries' air power for many years" Colonel Ross said. "Orchestrating the F-35 beddown is a challenge; and because it is a challenge that, to me, is fun."
Fun, maybe, but a formidable task. The SATAF'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.
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. Major 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; they are air to air, "Colonel Ross said. "We have both 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 their commander, Col. Russ Handy.
"It's absolutely awesome that the 33rd FW'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.
"This is truly a team relationship and the support from Eglin has been great," he concluded.