Tactical

Georgia base tapped to host F-35 fighters as A-10 fleet retires

Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, is the service’s top pick to become the next active duty home of the F-35A Lightning II fighter.

The Air Force said Monday it plans to bring two F-35 squadrons to the Valdosta base starting in fiscal 2029, when it hopes to complete phasing out its fleet of A-10C Thunderbolt II attack planes.

The service must first study the proposed move’s environmental impact on the surrounding area before formally green-lighting the project. That review is slated to finish in fall 2025.

Switching missions at Moody isn’t expected to create any new jobs on base, the Air Force said, a;though it had previously announced that the U.S.’s most advanced fighter jet would bring in another 500 or so workers.

It’s unclear what other bases were considered as part of the process.

Winding down much of America’s combat operations overseas has prompted a significant shift in Moody’s missions at home. For almost two decades, the base’s A-10s watched over ground troops strafed enemy forces with the Warthog’s iconic, armor-piercing 30 mm gun.

Moody airmen also flew search-and-rescue missions in Afghanistan since the early days of the U.S. invasion and trained Afghan pilots on the A-29 Super Tucano ground attack aircraft to build the country’s fledgling air force.

The Air Force’s plan to swap A-10s for F-35s at Moody is emblematic of the Pentagon’s pivot from its longtime War on Terror to instead focus on military competition with China.

The service argues that the Warthog fleet must be retired because it is ill-equipped to face off against advanced air defenses, stealth jets and the vast distances of the Pacific. Critics say the A-10 can perform the close air support mission far better than the F-35, which was designed as the high-tech “quarterback” of the battlefield rather than to hunt convoys.

Georgia lawmakers hailed the decision as a long-term investment in the region’s military community as the country’s priorities change.

“This is a major step forward in our ongoing effort to strengthen and sustain Moody Air Force Base for decades to come,” Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, said in a release Monday. “I will continue to champion Moody AFB and its future as a home for U.S. Air Force tactical aviation.”

“For decades Moody AFB has been key for our nation’s defense,” Republican Rep. Austin Scott, who represents the base’s district, said on Twitter. “I am pleased that Secretary Kendall has selected Moody as the preferred location for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Moody is proud to maintain a fighter mission, carrying its strong legacy long into the 21st century.”

Active duty F-35 units already handle test, training and combat operations from Edwards Air Force Base in California, Nellis AFB in Nevada, Luke AFB in Arizona, Hill AFB in Utah, Eglin AFB in Florida, Eielson AFB in Alaska and RAF Lakenheath in England. Three more squadrons will start arriving at Tyndall AFB, Florida, this summer.

In May, the service announced that the Oregon National Guard will likely host the Air Force’s third F-35A training squadron at Kingsley Field, pending an environmental study. The decision would bring 20 jets but no new jobs to the installation.

“The Air Force needs F-35 squadrons available and fully mission-capable to prevail against peer adversaries,” the Oregon Air National Guard’s 173rd Fighter Wing said in a release. “That means they require more F-35 pilots. Team Kingsley’s adaptability and excellence allows us to fill this Air Force need.”

The U.S. plans to purchase 2,470 F-35s overall, more than 1,700 of which will be flown by the Air Force. The jets remain the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program, at more than $1.7 trillion to buy, operate and maintain, the Government Accountability Office said last year.

Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.

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