The 325th Fighter Wing (FW) has formally welcomed its first four F-35As to Tyndall AFB in Florida, where some 78 examples of the fifth-generation fighter will eventually equip three projected fully combat-capable Lightning II squadrons.
Tyndall AFB received its initial three F-35As (18-5416 ‘TY/325OG’, 20-5626 ‘TY/325FW’ and 20-5627 ‘TY/95FS’) on August 1, before a fourth example (serial unknown) was delivered to the Florida base two days later (on August 3). These first four F-35As will initially equip the 325th FW’s 95th Fighter Squadron ‘Boneheads’, which was reactivated to operate the type in June, following a four-year hiatus.
The Florida base previously hosted the USAF’s F-22 Formal Training Unit (FTU) before it was badly damaged by Hurricane Michael in October 2018 and was rebuilt as the Air Force’s ‘Installation of the Future’ to house a fully combat-capable F-35A Lightning II fighter wing. The F-22 FTU mission was temporarily relocated to nearby Eglin AFB – with all ground-based training and simulators remaining at Tyndall – before it was permanently moved to Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia, earlier this year.
The F-35As at Tyndall will enjoy direct access to the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Joint Gulf Range Complex, with the 325th FW expected to form the centrepiece of the USAF’s ‘Force Generation’ model as a lead wing that will be capable of conducting both worldwide deployments and homeland defence missions. It is also expected that, once operational, Tyndall’s F-35As will participate in large-scale exercises that aim to improve interoperability between fifth- and fourth-generation fighters, as well as joint force tasks.
Having flown one of the first TY-coded F-35As to Tyndall, Col George Watkins – commander of the 325th FW – said: “The arrival of the F-35 marks a new chapter for Tyndall. It represents the introduction of the most advanced and technologically sophisticated fighter aircraft into the 325th [FW’s] operational fleet.”
The 95th FS is expected to receive 16 F-35As by the end of summer 2024 and plans to reach its Full Operational Capability (FOC) with 24 primary assigned aircraft and two reserves by mid-2025. Two other squadrons of equal strength will then be formed to complete the 325th FW. This wing will train as a whole unit and will be able to deploy en masse, rather than as individual units that join others “under a different commander that no one’s ever met,” Col Watkins said. “This is the Air Force’s vision for how we will deploy in the future.”