180th Fighter Wing Candidate for F-35A Mission

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  • By Senior Master Sgt. Beth Holliker
  • Public Affairs
The 180th Fighter Wing, Ohio National Guard, has been placed on a short-list as a candidate installation to receive the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, the U.S. Air Force announced in a release, April 12, 2016.

The 180FW is one of 18 Air National Guard installations across the country being considered as potential hopefuls in the search for two future sites to house the next generation fighter mission.

Located at the Toledo Express Airport in Swanton, Ohio, the 180FW has been a fixture in the Northwest Ohio community since 1958 and flies the F-16 Fighting Falcon, directly supporting the nation's number one mission in homeland defense, Aerospace Control Alert since 2008.

"The 180FW consistently proves to be an essential, long-term solution for the defense of our nation," said Col. Craig Baker, 180FW commander. "With 60 percent of the nation's population lying within a 600 mile radius, the 180FW is strategically located to protect vital infrastructure, key centers of gravity, nuclear power plants and international airports."

The 180FW is also structured to support future One Force and joint-basing initiatives and is already taking steps to become a full active association unit, adding to the wing's value for any potential mission changes or upgrades, now and in the future, including the F-35A.

"The 180FW is at the forefront of the Air National Guard, and the dedication and innovation of the 180FW Airmen will ensure the wing remains viable long into the future," Baker said.

The U.S. Air Force announced in late 2015 that plans were underway to select the next two ANG units suitable to support the fifth-generation fighter. The announcement led Ohio's congressional delegation to draft a letter urging the Secretary of the Air Force, The Honorable Deborah Lee James, to strongly consider the 180FW as the best choice for the mission.

The letter, sent to the SECAF in February, 2016, described why the 180FW is the best choice for the F-35A and its mission. The letter specifically highlighted the strategic advantages and record accomplishments of the 180FW along with support from the State of Ohio, the City of Toledo and surrounding communities.

Not only does the wing have the full support of its state elected officials, but also of civic and community leaders in those counties surrounding the base.

"The residents and businesses in the Toledo region are pleased to have the180th Fighter Wing based at Toledo Express Airport. More importantly, we are proud to call the men and women of the180th Fighter Wing our friends, family and neighbors," said Wendy Gramza, president of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce. "In addition to defending our freedom at home and abroad, they help drive our region's economy and support many charities and causes that serve our local communities."

"The 180FW is only as rock-solid as the communities who support us," Baker said. "Our community members serve as the foundation on which this wing is built. The 180FW would not be where it is today if not for the support and partnership of our communities. We are committed to partnering with our communities, leveraging strengths and innovative opportunities to ensure we remain postured to support and defend our nation."

The backing of local communities, state and federal lawmakers aren't the only feathers in the 180FW cap. The wing also brings many strategic and operational attributes to the table, setting it apart from other fighter wings across the country.

"Currently the 180FW is at the forefront of protection for over 60 percent of the U.S. population and deploys around the globe to address all threats, but the battlefield is changing and so should we," said Maj. Gen. Mark E. Bartman, The Adjutant General, Ohio National Guard. "With conversion to the F-35A, the 180FW can stay out in front with the latest technology, lethality and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capabilities."

Already meeting, and in some cases exceeding, many of the minimum requirements to be considered a contender throughout the first round of basing criteria evaluations, the 180FW maintains several new and renovated state-of-the-art operational, maintenance and support facilities and equipment.

Preliminary review of the ANG units in contention will include mission requirements, facility capacity, environmental considerations and cost requirements necessary to transition to the F-35A.

The Air Force also expects to grow the selected units into full active association wings. Active association wings are those where the aircraft are assigned and housed at the Air Reserve Component installations, in this case, an ANG wing, with additional manpower provided by the active duty component.

The 180FW started the active association process in 2015 when the first active duty pilot arrived at the unit. The wing expects three more pilots and 40 aircraft maintenance personnel to arrive in the future, making the wing a full active association. The 180FW currently employs more than 400 fulltime employees and over 1,000 drill status guardsmen.

Mission specific requirements include weather conditions, airspace and training range proximity and availability necessary to conduct and meet training requirements.

The 180FW has 10 Airspace and Air Traffic Control Assigned Airspaces, or ATCAA, areas available, along with five designated Military Operating Airspaces and four restricted airspaces within a 240 nautical mile radius.

Included in these designated areas, the 180FW has access to air-to-ground gunnery ranges suited to the capabilities of both the F-16 and the F-35A. Both Alpena Airspace Complex in Michigan and Buckeye Airspace, Ohio, are supersonic, chaff and flare capable with full ground radar control and Link-16 capability. Link-16 is an electronic communication and data link between aircraft that allows pilots to communicate without the need to talk over radio frequencies in an effort to minimize detection from adversaries.

In addition, the wing has access to three aerial gunnery ranges in Atterbury and Jefferson, Indiana, as well as Grayling, Michigan. All are approved for employment of precision-guided munitions, allowing the 180FW to remain proficient with air interdiction, close air support and air defense missions.

Utilizing multiple airspaces and ranges that are geographically separated allows the wing to find the favorable weather necessary to maintain training requirements and operational readiness at all times.

Facility requirements include a variety of areas of consideration. The minimum requirements include a runway of at least 8,000 feet, 15,000 square yards of ramp and parking space and 23,500 square feet of hangar space, just to name a few.

The 180FW boasts a 10,600 foot primary runway, more than 52,400 square yards of aircraft parking and ramp space, and a fully renovated aircraft maintenance hangar with more than 63,700 square feet available for aircraft parking and maintenance.

The wing also maintains a newly constructed, state-of-the art Munitions Storage Area with more than 32,500 square feet of facility space located on 16 acres of land. The on-site MSA allows the 180FW to keep necessary munitions on-hand and easily accessible for modern fighter aircraft, to include the F-35A. The facility gives the wing the capability to deliver air superiority to Combatant Commanders directly from home-station without having to divert to another location to load live weapons.  This critical capability enables the wing to respond rapidly to potential developing homeland defense requirements and maintain operational readiness as we continue to support overseas combat operations.

Not only does the 180FW maintain more than 379,000 square feet of facilities, all facilities required to support the F-35A mission, the wing is also situated on 135 acres of land and has more than 200 acres available should expansion be required. 

Though the wing's fleet is aging, the impeccable and unparalleled maintenance practices of the 180FW maintenance group ensures that the wing and its fighters are viable and remain the number one choice for our nation's homeland defense, as well as at the forefront of the warfight world-wide.

Regular avionics upgrades and structural reinforcements keep the 180FW fighters ready for the fight, ensuring the jets have the latest, top of the line technology capabilities and body frame enhancements, remaining as capable and comparable as newer F-16 models.

Over the past few years alone, the jets have undergone several significant avionics upgrades, enhancing the safety and capabilities of both the pilots and the jets.  These upgrades include the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System, an upgraded Electronic Warfare system and an upgrade to the enemy aircraft detection system.
"All of these upgrades increase the warfighting capabilities of the F-16," said Master Sgt. Brian McCormick, a quality assurance technician with the 180FW. "They will also significantly reduce pilot workload, allowing them to better focus on critical mission tasks."

Following the preliminary evaluations of mission, facility and cost requirements and considerations, the SECAF will narrow down the initial list of 18 to those few determined most suitable for the F-35A mission. Though the Air Force has not yet determined how many installations will remain in contention, the SECAF does plan to announce the candidate units to congress this summer.

The remaining installations will then be scheduled for more in-depth site surveys. The surveys will aid in the selection of primary and alternate candidate units which will then undergo National Environmental Protection Act evaluations in an effort to certify those installations as being environmentally viable.

The final evaluation process is expected to be completed this fall and those primary installations will then be expected to begin receiving the F-35A fighter in the summer of 2022.

"The Air Force is committed to a deliberate and open process to address F-35A basing," said Jennifer A. Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, in F-35A guidance issued in April. "As we progress through the basing process, we will share information so interested communities are aware of what to expect."

For more information and to read the legislative support letters, visit: http://www.toledochamber.com/hot-issues--legislation.html
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