February 13, 2008 (by Maj.Paul Kirmis) - The 56th Fighter Wing commander officially announced the future deactivation of one of Luke's eight fighter squadrons Tuesday during a forum.
USAF F-16C block 42 #89-2154 from the 63rd FS is seen coming into land in the evening sun at Luke AFB
Brig. Gen. Tom Jones formally announced that the 63rd Fighter Squadron 'Panthers' will shut its doors with a closure ceremony tentatively scheduled in spring 2009.
The general's decision was based solely on current United States Air Force Historical Heritage Points kept by the Air Force Historian in Washington, D.C. The squadron flag and historical memorabilia will be packaged, shipped and stored at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Base re-alignment and closure actions are ongoing in the U.S. military for more than a decade, and they continue to shape our forces to meet emerging technology and challenges of the future. In 2005, Congress signed the most recent BRAC
recommendations into law. From that document Luke was tasked to distribute 37 F-16s, and re-align the 56th FW targeting pod repair facility in order to stand-up a combined intermediate repair facility at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
The most recognizable BRAC action with greatest impact on the 56th FW mission is the retirement of 25 F-16 aircraft, loss of a fighter squadron and its associated aircraft maintenance unit, and reduction of some supporting positions throughout the wing.
BRAC mandated that Luke would redistribute 37 F-16s; this includes the F-16s redistributed last year during the 302nd Fighter Squadron closure. Through BRAC and future force funding decisions, the 56th FW was left to reduce 25 block 25
aircraft in its inventory.
Personnel reductions and unit closures go hand-in-hand with aircraft reduction, but General Jones reassured Luke Airmen during his commander's calls Jan. 28 through Feb. 1 that personnel will still continue to produce sorties until the last aircraft retires. Overall, the 56th FW will lose 425 positions: 364 from the 56th Maintenance Group, 31 from the 56th Operations Group and 30 from the 56th Mission Support Group and 56th FW staff agencies. These reductions in manpower will be realized over the next year and a half through normal permanent change of station cycles where Airmen are expected to PCS through attrition or be absorbed by other squadrons.
The 63rd FS
currently flies the block 42
F-16 and its jets will transfer to the 61st Fighter Squadron in the spring of 2009. The squadrons flying Block 42s in post-BRAC will be the 61st, 308th and 310th Fighter Squadrons. The 62nd and 309th Fighter Squadrons will continue to fly the Block 25 F-16. Personnel from the 63rd FS will be re-assigned to other flying or support squadrons on base. The 63rd FS operations building will be turned over to the wing facilities board for disposition. The remaining squadron maintenance organizations will perform minor relocations in order to optimize existing base facilities and geographical operations and maintenance efficiencies.
In another BRAC decision, the U.S. General Accounting Office estimated that the transition from repairing the 56th FW's low altitude navigation and targeting infrared for night targeting pods locally to a CIRF at Hill AFB
will save the Air Force $1.2 million annually. For the 56th Maintenance Group, this action involves the transfer of 25 positions from the 56th Component Maintenance Squadron to Hill AFB, along with all of their LANTIRN
test and repair equipment. By May 2008, all 56th FW targeting pods will be transported to Hill AFB for repair, with a replacement pod shipped simultaneously to Luke to keep enough serviceable targeting pods on hand to support the wing's flying mission.
The first F-16s are scheduled to depart Luke in November 2008, with a number of F-16s departing every month until the last of the retiring F-16s leave in early August 2009. All 25 of these F-16s are scheduled to be turned over to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group located at Davis-Monthan AFB.