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Hill Air Force Base • A massive new fighter-jet repair shop at northern Utah's Hill Air Force Base is even more important now that the military is slashing budgets, Rep. Rob Bishop said Thursday. The 1st District Republican congressman cut the ribbon on the $45 million facility, which is the size of two football fields.
The 309th Maintenance Wing at Hill has been repairing and maintaining the F-22 Raptors in several locations around base and now can consolidate the work of 168 employees in one state-of-the art building. The workforce is expected to increase to 230 in the next few months, said Col. Allan Day, wing commander.
Military cuts will mean that resources — such as the fighter aircraft fleet — must be stretched further and maintained even better, Bishop told a crowd of about 100.
"Sustainment will play a greater role in the future," he said.
The F-22 has been controversial.
According to a Los Angeles Times story last month, the F-22 program will have cost the government $77 billion even though its need was questioned before the jets entered the fleet in 2005. Some critics also question its safety.
"While every other warplane in the U.S. arsenal has been used to pummel targets in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, the Air Force's F-22s have sat idle — used only in test missions. Even so, F-22 pilots have experienced seven major crashes with two deaths," the newspaper said.
The Defense Department in 2009 decided to cap production of the aircraft at 188 jets, far fewer than envisioned when the F-22 was designed to give the U.S. superiority in future air dogfights. The last jet rolled off a Lockheed Martin assembly line last month.
Hill’s new facility was designed before that decision to cap the program, Day said.
The first phase of the massive building was completed in 2010. With the second phase, Hill has the capacity to handle all the maintenance work on the Air Force’s F-22s.
At any point in time, 12 of the aircraft are undergoing repairs. At present, half of those come to HAFB and half to contractor Lockheed Martin’s site in Palmdale, Calif.
Hill also is poised to take on maintenance of the F-35 fighter jet if the new program survives an era of severe defense cost-cutting.
"The decisions have been made," Bishop said after the ribbon-cutting. "The question is will we retrench and start to slow that process down. … This is a huge pot of money … so everyone who wants money is looking at that with envy."
The F-35 is needed to replace the aging F-16 fighter jets, and the F-22 gives the United States superiority in the air, he said.
"We have controlled the skies since the Korean War and we take it for granted," Bishop said. "We are in jeopardy of losing that if we don’t stay ahead. … If we lose that, then we put our ground forces at significant risk."
Bishop said he and others in the Utah delegation are still awaiting an explanation from Air Force brass about how they decided on details of a reorganization that will cost HAFB 261 jobs by fall.
They sent a combative letter when the reorganization was announced in early November, angry that they were not consulted nor given the rationale for downsizing the Ogden Air Logistics Center to a depot.