New Mexico Voices: F-16 Expansion equals job growth for New Mexico
As your Lieutenant Governor these past seven years, I have made it a priority to preserve and promote our state’s military bases and defense investment in New Mexico. As a member of the Military Base Planning Commission, I have made numerous trips to the Pentagon fighting for the priorities important to so many of our communities. It has been a precious honor to advocate for all of the airmen, soldiers, civilians, maintainers, administrators, and support personnel.
New Mexico’s unique role in securing America’s national security stands at a crossroad regarding our military training airspace. The Special Use Airspace (SUA) has remained virtually unchanged for decades despite major leaps forward in military aircraft technology and tactics. Larger parcels of airspace are required to effectively train current and future pilots for combat. Optimizing southern New Mexico’s SUA is crucial for the state’s economy, as well as the defense of the nation.
Holloman currently trains approximately 170 new and re-qualifying F-16 pilots per year before sending them to their operational units. In the midst of a severe fighter pilot shortage, Holloman has been chosen to play the pivotal role. Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. Heather Wilson, recently selected Holloman as the interim location for 45 additional F-16s to augment the 55 F-16s currently at the base, resulting in nearly half of all Air Force fighter pilot production occurring in New Mexico. Availability of adequate airspace is critical to the selection process, as the Air Force evaluates other bases to determine the permanent location for these F-16s.
The FAA Military Operations Areas (MOA) allow participating military aircraft the freedom and safety to maneuver without having to de-conflict from traffic, such as commercial airliners. The FAA cautions traffic, not on instrument flight plans, to remain clear of active MOAs. MOAs do not encroach on or limit any activities on the ground below them, even when military aircraft are operating within their boundaries.
Military aircraft in a MOA do not drop live or inert bombs, launch rockets or missiles or shoot guns. They operate at high speeds and conduct aggressive maneuvers. While most fighter aircraft carry external fuel tanks, they are never jettisoned during training. On the rare occasion where tanks are jettisoned in an emergency, they typically occur close to the end of the departure runway. Jet fighters routinely deploy defensive chaff and flares in MOAs since they are an important part of realistic combat training. However, altitude restrictions are always in place based on the fire danger status provided by the US Forest Service. This ensures the flare is completely consumed and extinguished well before reaching the ground.
White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) with its primary mission of conducting test activities has limited availability to support F-16 pilot training. To the east of WSMR, between Roswell and Carlsbad, the Air Force is proposing to expand the existing Talon MOA. Other MOAs in southern New Mexico and West Texas, such as Pecos, Bronco, Valentine and Cato, are too far from Holloman. The Talon MOA expansion was intended to support the original two F-16 squadrons and was under way well before the decision was made to move additional F-16s to Holloman. To the west of WSMR, the Air Force is proposing to expand the Cato and Smitty MOAs as well as create a new MOA. This airspace is essential to support the expanding F-16 training mission which will generate long term and sustainable job growth throughout New Mexico.
This mission at Holloman AFB brings over 600 direct jobs, thousands of regional employment opportunities and currently over $412 million in economic impact to our state. Combined with the Remote Piloted Aircraft operations, we are in position to become the nation’s fastest growing mission.
The benefit to our entire state is substantial and real. Now is the time to embrace this opportunity and secure the future of defense and national security aviation Right Here in New Mexico.