In a bid to alleviate a growing shortage of fighter pilots, the Air Force is establishing up to two interim F-16 training units at existing F-16 training locations, the service announced Thursday.
Officials expect to select candidate locations by the end of the calendar year, reported Air Force Times.
To expedite the process of standing up the training units, the service will temporarily move F-16 aircraft from Hill AFB, Utah, to two existing F-16 training locations, the Air Force said in a release. This approach will allow the Air Force to avoid conducting an exhaustive environmental review and other analyses that would be required if the service intended to permanently base formal training units.
Officials hope this interim solution will jump start pilot production by the end of September 2017, James said Wednesday.
The bases under consideration to take Hill’s F-16 fighter jets are Luke AFB or Tucson Air Guard Station in Arizona; Holloman AFB, N.M.; and Joint Base San Antonio’s Kelly Air Guard Station, Texas.
Air Force leaders had planned on keeping Hill’s fleet of 54 F-16s until 2018, but with the installation expected to host three F-35 squadrons by 2019, it has little room for the aircraft.
“The Air Force is committed to a deliberate and open process to address relocating the F-16s,” Jennifer Miller, deputy assistant secretary for installations, said in a release. “As we progress through the basing process, we will share information so interested communities are aware of what to expect.”
Officials will begin site surveys at the interim locations next week. Later, the Air Force will conduct site surveys, if necessary, at candidate bases for the permanent solution.
“Site survey teams will assess each location against operational requirements, potential impacts to existing missions, infrastructure, environmental considerations and manpower. They will also develop cost estimates to beddown the F-16s,” according to the release.
The service’s growing shortage of fighter pilots stems from the high demand for air power keeping pilots deployed and away from their families, along with a reduction in training while at home prompted by budget constraints. In addition to a drop in pilot morale, the Air Force also faces competition from the airline industry, which has increased hiring for pilots.
The service could be short about 1,000 fighter pilots “in just a couple years,” James said Wednesday.