Air Force Plans to Station Four Dozen of the Nation’s Newest Fighter Jets in Interior Alaska

Eielson AFB 1

The Obama administration is seeking $37 million for an F-35 flight simulator at Eielson Air Force Base for combat training.  According to the proposed White House budget, the plan is to purchase F-35 aircraft from Lockheed starting in the third quarter of fiscal year 2019 to the cost of $10.6 billion. Eielson needs the six-bay simulator to train the pilots upon the arrival of 57 of the Lockheed aircraft, with a following of nearly 330 more from 2017 to 2020.

The Missile Defense Agency stated in a briefing that the long range radar is most likely to be built in Alaska. The Obama administration will seek $138 million to continue planning the radar.  So with this large spend in Alaska on the horizon, what do we know about this remote less populated part of our country, in particular the Eielson AFB?

In addition to the temperature being -26 degrees today, this is what I discovered about the war decorated infamous 354th Fighter Wing.

More than 50 years ago surveyors first staked out the land that would become Eielson Air Force Base. It was 1943; Japanese had invaded the Aleutian Islands, the Russians were asking for American aircraft to help defend the homeland and the Allies had yet to get the upper hand in Europe or the Pacific. But as one looks back, it becomes apparent Mother Nature – more than Uncle Sam – prompted the opening of Eielson and its expansion in the Interior of Alaska.

The 354th Fighter Wing has a long and illustrious history. Since its constitution in 1942, the Wing’s flying units have seen action in World War II, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf. From the skies over Germany to the sands of Iraq, the 354th has performed with distinction.

Activated at Hamilton Field, California on November 15, 1942, the 354th Fighter Group (354 FG) trained in P-39 aircraft there and at other Army airfields for nearly a year. In October 1943, the 354 FG moved to Greenham Common, England. After VE-Day, the group served with the army of occupation until February 1946 when it was transferred back to the United States and inactivated.

On September 26, 1956, the Air Force resurrected the unit as the 354th Fighter-Day Wing and activated it on November 19, 1956 at Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina. Colonel Francis S. Gabreski became the wing’s first commander. The wing was redesignated the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing (354 TFW) on July 1, 1958.

Between the years of 1958-1970, the 354th TFW deployed to the Dominican Republic for that country’s crisis in 1965; deployed to Japan and Spain as replacement units during Vietnam, then deployed to South Vietnam in 1966, Southeast Asia in April 1968, and served in Korea for two years returning to Myrtle Beach in June 1970.

After converting to A-10 air craft in 1977, the 354th TFW served in Desert Storm returning home from the Gulf in 1991. Two years later, due to Base Realignment and Closure, the 354 FW inactivated and the base closed. Less than 5 months later on August 20, 1993 the 354 FW replaced the 343d Wing at Eielson AFB, Alaska.We can thank Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill McPeak for reserving the lineage of the Air Force’s most honored wings.

In 2005, BRAC called for the closure of Eielson which meant the removal of A-10s as it was designated RED FLAG- Alaska. Red Flag is an advanced aerial combat training exercise and a successor to the previous COPE THUNDER exercise series in the Western Pacific and Alaska. Since 1975, air crews from the United States Air Force (USAF), United States Navy (USN), United States Marine Corps (USMC), United States Army (USA) and numerous NATO or other allied nations’ air forces take part in one of several Red Flag exercises held during the year, each of which is two weeks in duration.

The purpose is to train pilots and other flight crew members from the U.S., NATO and other allied countries for real air combat situations. This includes the use of “enemy” hardware and live ammunition for bombing exercises within the adjacent Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR).

Reference: http://eielson.af.mil, MDA Digest, Wikipedia