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Two jet fighter squadrons with crews of 500 officers and enlisted men and women are in line to move from the East Coast to Lemoore Naval Air Station, probably in spring 2014, the Navy said last Friday, Oct. 21.
An environmental assessment, which was made public Friday, determined that relocating two squadrons from Virginia to Lemoore would have no significant impacts. The assessment removes a major hurdle in possibly relocating the squadrons.
Navy Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., wants to move the two 12-jet squadrons west to be closer to Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers, and Lemoore is the best place because of its status as the Navy’s West Coast master jet base, the environmental assessment said.
The Navy also is considering reducing the number of jets assigned to a Lemoore training squadron, which would lead to a slight reduction in fighter jets at the base.
The Navy will make a final decision on the move by 2014, said Ted Brown, a spokesman for Fleet Forces Command.
The move would pump $1.9 million in salaries annually into the Valley’s economy, the report said.
Maureen Azevedo, CEO of the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce, hailed the potential move as “an awesome thing” for Lemoore, as well as Kings, Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties.
However welcoming the prospect of the relocations might be for Lemoore boosters, the looming question of where the next generation of jet fighters — 100 Navy F-35C Joint Striker Fighter jets — will be based remains up in the air.
An environmental-impact statement is being prepared to evaluate both Lemoore and an air base in El Centro in Imperial County, with a recommendation slated to be released in 2013.
But the announcement that the path is cleared for two new squadrons — which ones haven’t been determined yet — to make Lemoore their home “strengthens the viability of this base,” said John Lehn, president and CEO of the Kings County Economic Development Corp.
That’s not the only change the Navy is moving toward. According to the environmental assessment, five squadrons at Lemoore would have their older F/A-18C Hornet jet fighters retired and replaced by Super Hornets, and a squadron assigned to train pilots would lose 30 older Hornets that won’t be replaced.
But the smaller training squadron would be more than offset by the two new squadrons, resulting in 180 more uniformed military at the base, Larson said.
The number of takeoffs and landings and other air operations at the Lemoore base would be cut by about 24% because there would be fewer jets in the training squadron. But the total number of fighter jets at Lemoore will be about the same, dipping from 238 to 234.