MCAS Yuma to begin construction for new fighter jet
Six projects exceeding $150 million were awarded to contractors this month to begin construction in support of the future F-35B Joint Strike Fighter basing at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, according to the Department of the Navy.
“The significance of these projects is really two-fold. They are needed to bring MCAS Yuma up to standard from its 1950s and ‘60s structure of older utilities and communication capabilities and to ensure the air station has the power resources to support the F-35 program's infrastructure needs,” said Lt Col. Dwight De Jong, director of the Joint Strike Fighter Site Activation Team for MCAS Yuma.
The first round of projects include the development of two new squadron hangars, a JSF simulator facility and upgrades to communications and utilities infrastructure. As these construction projects begin in late June, the public should be aware of increased traffic congestion and road closures on and off station, increased noise and dust near the work sites and changes to military training site locations aboard MCAS Yuma.
As the F-35 JSF infrastructure develops at MCAS Yuma, there will be growing pains. Construction for the F-35 JSF build-up is expected to continue through 2014 and will include additional construction contracts for Fiscal Year 2012.
De Jong said the city of Yuma has to have patience during the build-up phase due to the vast amount of work required over the next few years to bring the base in to the 21st century.
As the future home of five F-35 JSF operational squadrons of 16 aircraft each and one operational test and evaluation squadron of eight aircraft totaling 88 aircraft, these squadrons will replace Yuma's four existing squadrons consisting of 56 AV-8B Harriers.
The F-35 JSF will also eventually replace the AV-8B aircraft based in North Carolina and the F-18 Hornets based in California, South Carolina and Japan, becoming the Marine Corps' sole fixed wing attack aircraft.
De Jong added, “This transition solidifies the Marine Corps' vision of Yuma becoming the premier West Coast master jet base. The F-35, with advanced capabilities beyond the F-18 and Harrier, gives us the 5th generation fighter that no one else has. And more importantly, it ensures our continuing advantage over any and all adversaries that we potentially will face.”
VMFA-332 is set to become the first F-35 squadron, replacing a former F-18 squadron that was deactivated several years ago. VMFA-332 will not only be the first Marine Corps F-35 Squadron in Yuma, it is also scheduled to be the first F-35 JSF operational squadron in the Department of Defense.
Despite the impending transition between the AV-8B Harriers and the F-35 JSF, the conversion will take several years, meaning the Yuma community will have the privilege of seeing both air frames in action.
For now, Yuma's AV-8B Harriers are anything but obsolete, judging from their extensive deployment cycles. VMA 211 is scheduled to return in mid-June from a six month deployment with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, where they proved the enduring need for a short take off/landing (STOVL) aircraft through their ship to shore support of combat operations in southern Afghanistan in late 2010 while aboard the USS Peleliu.
Additionally, VMA-513, which recently deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, continues to offer combatant commanders more flexible basing options with the use of STOVL technology. VMA-513, with the support of MWSS-371, can construct a 3,000 to 4,000 foot expeditionary “STOVL-only” runway in a matter of days to create new landing zones. In remote locations like Forward Operating Base Dwyer, STOVL-only airfields and Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) provide Harriers three times faster re-fueling and re-arming capabilities than flying to larger runways which translates in to faster support to ground combat operations.
With ten times as many 3,000 foot runways available as there are 8,000 foot runways worldwide, according to Marine Corps findings, and the continuing need to defend against an uncommon enemy, the use of the AV-8B Harrier and soon the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter will certainly aid in the continued strength of the Marine Air Ground Task Force.
The first F-35 pilots are scheduled to begin arriving at MCAS Yuma in November 2011, while the first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft is on track for September 2012.
To welcome the F-35 build-up, MCAS Yuma will conduct a groundbreaking ceremony on station and host a town hall meeting at the Yuma Civic Center in the near future.