Friday, March 23, 2012

Eglin Air Force Base - F35 Integrated Training Center

I've found additional info about the F35 training program from american sources. A massively interesting presentation made by the US DoD in 2010 presents in detail the structure of the F35 ITC, and indirectly tells us of the plan that the UK was working with for the training of its F35 force prior to the switch to the C variant. 

The enormous ITC complex is to train pilots from all three US users of the F35 and from whatever partner country which will want to exploit the school. 
Eglin is being extended and refurbished, with new buildings being prepared and with an LHA deck replica being prepared for specific training of the USMC F35B crews in the nearby auxiliary airfield known as Duke Field. 

This map shows the runway extension and the construction of the "LHA deck" at Duke Field for the specific training of USMC F35B crews destined to the flat tops amphibs.
This map shows the relative positions of Eglin, the ITC main complex and the nearby Duke Field auxiliary airfield.

The ITC is to offer 10 F35 Full Mission Simulators, classrooms, 1 Ejection Seat Trainer, a number of Mainteinance Crew Simulators and some 5 Weapons Load Trainers. See my earlier article on F35 training for an overview of these systems.

Loading an AMRAAM in the weapon bay of the F35: just like the real thing. This is the first operational Weapons Loading Trainer installed at Eglin. See

Flying training will be carried out by a squadron from each of the main users, under the control of 33 Fighter Wing "Nomads", part of Air Education and Training Command's 19th Air Force. 

- For the USAF, the 58th Fighter Squadron "Gorillas", which will have 24 F35A

- For the USMC, the VMFAT - 501 "Warlords", with 20 F35B

- For the USN, the VFA - 101 "Grim Reapers", with 15 F35B 

In addition, there will be 33rd Operations Support Squadron. 
33rd MXG will comprise three squadrons: the 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, providing flightline maintenance support; the 33rd Maintenance Squadron, providing intermediate-level back-shop support; and the 33rd Maintenance Operations Squadron, providing maintenance control and other logistics support functions. An additional "School House" Group is being developed to manage the training systems, support centers, classrooms, simulators, and ground training devices. 

A complete overview is available here

The original vision was for five F35 training squadrons to be based at Eglin, but some discussions and firm decisions still have to be taken in that regard: the training squadrons might remain 3. These are expected to reach peak efficiency around 2014 or 2015. 
By then, 33 Wing expects to have somewhere between 80 and 100 pilot students on the campus on any given day. Peak in the training efficiency for mainteinance crews will be reached a bit more slowly, with a notional date being 2016, when between 600 and 800 mainteiners in training will be on the campus on any given day. 

This map of the ITC structure shows the extent of Eglin's refurbishment and expansion. The ATC building contains the simulators and classrooms, and near the runway can be seen the two new hangars, with the Department of Navy's (DoN) one being the most evident. The hall to the left is the F35C USN one, the right hall is the USMC's one, and would have served a 6-strong UK F35B flight as well.

This interesting 2010 interview to Colonel Tomassetti, 33rd Fighter Wing, Vice Commander, contains more info. 

Mentioned in passing in one of the slides is the supremely interesting note that the VMFAT - 501 was to be augmented by 6 F35B from the UK, sharing the same hangar and facilities. This, prior to the 2010 SDSR variant switch, was the plan for US-based training of UK F35 personnel. Rumor was that the 6 F35B based at Eglin would be part of 1st RAF Sqn, as part of an initial plan that was to see Joint Force Harrier becoming Joint Force Lightning, with 800 and 801 NAS squadrons plus 1 and IV RAF squadrons. Now the uncertainty rules supreme.
Probably, this US-based force would be augmented by a training Flight / Operational Evaluation Unit in the UK on the main operating base (RAF Marham is seen as the current favorite, with Lossiemouth having been assigned the Typhoons and with Marham's destiny being closure when the Tornado GR4 retired, if it is not assigned the JCA). Logic would suggest that the Main Operating Base (MOB) would be given a replica of the CVF's deck to aid training, like the USMC is to do at Duke Field with the LHA-shaped runway. Simulator(s?) are also expected to be part of the MOB's equipment, and at least one Deployable Mission Rehearsal Trainer (built inside a standard TEU container) would be based on the aircraft carrier at readiness.  

With the move to the C variant, the "geographical" change would have been minimal, since the Warlords and Grim Reapers are based in the two halls of the very same large hangar building, property of the Department of Navy.

The USMC is to buy 420 F35, of which 340 will be B and 80 will be of the C type. The fleet will sustain 21 Regular and 3 Reserve squadrons. 5 of the regular squadrons will fly the C, the other 16 will fly the B. 
Squadron strength is planned at 12, with Reserve Squadrons having probably 10, giving a frontline force of 282 F35s. 
64 are planned to be assigned to training activities, of which 20 will be based at Eglin. 6 will form an Operational Evaluation Unit and 68 airframes of B and C variants will provide an attrition reserve. 

The ratios are 4.147 frontline airplanes per attrition airframe and 4.028 frontline airframes for each airplane busy in training/OEU role. 
This means that one third of the fleet is unavailable for frontline service due to training needs and attrition. 
With the same ratio, an UK buy of 50 airplanes, which these days is seen as the best option we could hope for, could give a frontline strength of 34, enough, at a stretch, to form 3 squadrons, but not with full complement of airframes. Like with vehicles in the Army under Whole Fleet Management, the airframes would have to be assigned to the squadrons depending on the needs of the moment. 
In a major crisis, provided a sufficient number of ready pilots, it should be notionally possible to load up a carrier with a full 36-strong, 3-squadron airwing. 

The hope, though, remains for a long-term buy of at least 80 airplanes, which would support 4 squadrons and provide better margins of maneuver. 
Post SDSR, RAF sources continued to circulate the "long term ambition" of buying "up to 100" F35s.  


  1. Just a small amount of info. I don't think it will be 1 and IV sqn. IV sqn operates the Hawk and 1 Sqn is rumoured to be the new Typhoon Sqn

  2. I know about 4 Sqn identity going to the Hawk sqn, i had not yet heard anything about 1st Squadron badge being touted for the Typhoons.
    Wasn't the rumor that both 43 and 111 would be brought back as the last 2 Tiffy squadrons? I'm guessing at least one of the two won't, now.

    Anyway, yes. As i've written, 1st and IV were the initial plan. And we both know how many things have changed in the meanwhile!

  3. Just a rumour at the moment, but is even in non public documents it is still referred to as 'the fourth typhoon sqn'. A bit odd but all will be revealed no doubt.


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