The Air Force has formally chosen Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to host a new Special Operations Command Wing, launching a process that will replace the base’s long-lived A-10 close air-support mission over the next five years.
The Air Force said Wednesday it selected D-M as the preferred location to host Air Force Special Operation Command’s third “power projection” wing, the new 492nd Special Operations Wing.
The final decision will be made following completion of an environmental impact analysis process, which includes environmental studies and public comment, the Air Force said.
In a joint statement, Arizona Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema and Reps. Ruben Gallego and Juan Ciscomani said they welcomed the Air Force’s announcement.
“With its year-round flying weather, extensive training range space, and proximity to other military bases, Southern Arizona is a natural choice to establish this Special Operations Wing in the Southwest,” they said. “These flying missions are critical to our military’s ability to outcompete our adversaries, and this decision is a positive step towards bringing them to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base that will enable the Air Force to proceed with the next set of site reviews to prepare the base for this transition.”
Following up plans for the new wing at D-M unveiled in April, the Air Force also detailed the planned shift of existing units to the Tucson base, including the relocation of the current 492nd Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field in Florida and its transition from a support wing into a power projection wing.
As part of the changes, the 47th Fighter Squadron, which has 24 A-10s, the 354th Fighter Squadron (26 A-10s) and the 357th Fighter Squadron (28 A-10s) at Davis-Monthan will be inactivated and their respective A-10s will be retired, the Air Force said.
The 47th and 357th will continue A-10 formal training until inactivation, the Air Force said, without giving a timeline.
D-M hosts a range of other missions, including a major contingent of combat search-and-rescue units, the Air Force’s only electronic combat squadron, the command headquarters of the 12th Air Force and the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, the nation’s biggest “boneyard” for retired military aircraft.
But local government and business leaders have feared the loss of the A-10 mission would diminish D-M, an important economic engine for the region with about 11,000 personnel and an estimated annual economic impact of some $3 billion.
Jay Bickley, president of the local base support group the DM50, said the group continues to advocate for future flying missions.
“We believe the additional combat search and rescue assets as well as the (Special Operations) Power Projection Wing will be a tremendous addition to the base and the local community,” Bickley said in a joint statement with the members of the congressional delegation.
“As our national defense posture evolves to a new region, this next mission ensures that Davis-Monthan — and all of Southern Arizona — continues to be critical to the testing, training, and operational readiness of our military,” said Robert Medler, president of the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance.
Other moves planned over the next five years include:
The U-28 Draco reconnaissance plane fleets at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico and at Hurlburt Field will be replaced by the OA-1K Armed Overwatch, a light single-engine turboprop based on an Air Tractor crop duster.
One OA-1K Armed Overwatch squadron will relocate from Hurlburt to D-M.
An MC-130J Commando II squadron will relocate from Cannon to D-M to join the 492nd Special Operations Wing. Based on Lockheed’s workhorse Super Hercules transport plane, the MC-130J is used for combat transport and support and aerial helicopter refueling.
An additional MC-130J squadron will activate at D-M.
The 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Army Airfield in North Carolina and the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, will relocate to D-M.
The 492nd Theater Air Operations Squadron will activate at Duke Field in Florida and transfer to Davis- Monthan.
The 34th Weapons Squadron and the 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron will relocate to D-M from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, with five HH-60W Jolly Green II rescue helicopters.
The Air Force said the transition of the 492nd Special Operations Wing to a power-projection wing will include all of the Special Operations Command’s mission capabilities including strike, mobility, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and will allow the service to focus each power projection wing regionally.
“The transition will also allow AFSOC (the Air Force Special Operations Command) to further diversify its locations to protect against natural disasters by ensuring it can maintain its ability to respond to president-directed missions on very tight timelines,” the Air Force said.
The additional location also will allow the Special Operations Command to take advantage of the Barry M. Goldwater Range, a sprawling military training range about 70 miles west of Tucson, the Air Force noted.
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