Just in case you thought the US Navy’s largest master jet base wasn’t already big enough, Naval Air Station Lemoore is going to grow even larger over the next few years, thanks to the F-35 training squadron moving in along with a pair of fleet squadrons from Virginia.
Home to the Navy’s Strike Fighter Wing Pacific, NAS Lemoore is home station to fifteen fleet strike fighter squadrons, along with a fleet replacement squadron. That adds up to well over 200 jets calling Lemoore home, and that number will continue to climb with the planned additions to the family. According to the plan released last summer, by 2030 Lemoore will be home to almost 300 strike fighter aircraft–a staggering number.
Beginning in January 2017, the base is also going to become home to VFA-101, otherwise known as the “Grim Reapers.” A Grumman F-14 fleet replacement squadron in a former life, VFA-101 is now the Navy’s JSF fleet replacement squadron and currently resides at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
The Navy plans on the Grim Reapers eventually having 30 F-35Cs after moving in to Lemoore, tasked with training both newly-winged aviators and also Hornet squadrons switching to the new 5th-gen strike fighter. Last month, a pair of Lightning IIs stopped by their future home, giving aviators and sailors alike a chance to look at the Navy’s newest strike fighter.
After spending a year getting settled in at their new West Coast digs, the Grim Reapers will begin the process of converting VFA-97, the Warhawks over to the F-35C. As it stands right now, VFA-97 will be the first fleet squadron to reach initial operational capability in the F-35C, and will race to the IOC finish line estimated for the latter part of 2018.
A member of the Hornet club since 1991 when they began operating legacy F-18s, the Warhawks are newcomers to the Super Hornet, having transitioned to the F/A-18E upon completion of their latest combat deployment in mid-2013. A lot could change between now and then, but for now the Warhawks will be in their Super Hornets until they get their hands on the stealthy F-35C.
As if that wasn’t enough, two Super Hornet squadrons from NAS Oceana will move across the country to their new home at Lemoore. Strike Fighter Squadrons 11 and 136, the Red Rippers and Knighthawks, will both relocate to the California base within the next two years, bring the total number of fleet squadrons to seventeen.
For those of you on the East Coast, no need to worry. NAS Oceana will still have a respectable amount of Navy fast jets with its fourteen squadrons. We hate to see the Red Rippers and Knighthawks leave Virginia, but wish them all the best out west and hope to see them raging out in R-2508 soon.