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Task force readies Eglin for F-35 mission

by Lois Walsh
96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

10/1/2007 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN)  -- With the next generation of fighter aircraft slated to arrive here in less than three years, the Eglin Air Force Base F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter Site Activation Task Force is already working to get the base ready.

Led by Col. George Ross and consisting of a 12-man, joint-service team, the SATAF has the formidable task of bedding down the Joint Strike Fighter. 

The team's primary responsibilities include managing a $400 million military construction budget for facilities and interfacing with multiple multiservice headquarters to meet each service's training needs. 

Assigning the mission of training new Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allied F-35 pilots and maintainers to Eglin AFB is the result of the Base Realignment and Closure Committee's 2005 directive.

While Colonel Ross is the single point of coordination between all stakeholders, he said he relies heavily on service-specific experts on his team.

"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, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mike Williams works for the fleet integration team under the commander of the Naval Air Force. He works closely with Pensacola Naval Air Station and Whiting Field and coordinates the Navy specific training such as field carrier landing practice. Maj. Lee Kloos is Air 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 said established units on Eglin AFB -- the 46th Test Wing and the 96th Air Base Wing -- are huge players in the process. Even though the sky 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-15 (Eagles), which is air-to-air," Colonel Ross said. "The F-35 has air-to-air and air-to-ground -- it's a multirole fighter and we'll be utilizing both the land and water ranges for training."

Also, the 33rd Fighter Wing will pass from an Air Combat Command unit to the Air Education and Training Command. 

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. 

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