Eglin Air Force Base is not likely to fall into the speculative demise that many predict, according to Col. Andrew Toth, executive officer of the Air Force’s 33rd Fighter Wing. Toth predicts at least another 50 years for this global flight training center and home to brand new $70 million jets, Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightnings, that keep getting shipped here directly from their texas factory.
With about 1,000 contractors and uniformed personnel housed in the wing now, Toth expects growth to expand to about 1,600 by 2015 that will include a joint command with Navy and Marines. The F-35 is expected to be a big part of that plan, but there is worry from some that the program’s big budget may not last on the cutting block.
With the defense budget facing a $500 billion cut over a ten-year period, beginning in 2013, the F-35 program’s estimated cost is more than $1 trillion. In the american military alone, there are orders for 2,443 F-35s to replace military fighters on Air Force Bases and Navy carrier fleets worldwide.
In the face of extreme budget cuts, some wonder why the military would invest such expense on these jets, and one explanation is that it is in great need. The F-35 is the first new servicewide, multi-use design to be purchased in such bulk since the F/A-18 was introduced in 1982.
Also, cutting this program or even cutting back on it would complicate matters for several international allies who have purchased planes and scheduled training sessions for their pilots at Elgin.
The campus of Elgin’s 33rd Fighter Wing is being overhauled to accommodate the increase in personnel expected in the very near future. The cafe will be expanded, and plans are in place to include a gym and dormitories. And the training halls are the size of football fields.
While everyone agrees that the price tag for the F-35 is steep, its value rests in the realization that it’s bringing to life most of the features pilots have been requesting for the last two decades. Not the least of these is a voice command feature–pilots are able to talk to the plane and tell it what to do.
Pilots have referred to the F-35 as a game changer–in terms of advancement in technology, maneuverability capabilities and even ease of maintenance inherent in the design, if the F-35, when fully complete, does everything it is purported to do, it will transform the game in fighter aviation.