More than U.S. Air Force 150 aircraft, including F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, have evacuated inland in preparation for Hurricane Dorian to protect the billions of taxpayer dollars invested into the Air Force fleet.
“In preparation for Hurricane Dorian, Col. David Lopez, 1st Fighter Wing commander, has ordered Langley Air Force Base F-22 Raptor and T-38 Talon aircraft to evacuate to Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio,” according to U.S. Air Force press reports.
Aircraft from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina; Moody Air Force Base and Robins Air Force Base, Georgia; and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, began evacuating to inland bases Sept. 2.
The wing leadership who own those assets — the F-22 Raptor, F-16CM Fighting Falcon, T-38 Talon, E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft and A-10 Thunderbolt II — have specific actions they take at certain hours before a storm. For this hurricane season, the U.S. Air Force has taken steps to better prepare for weather threats after the damage caused by the major natural disasters of 2018. Hurricane Michael, which destroyed most of Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, in October of 2018, and the flooding at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, have alerted senior Air Force leaders and Congress to the growing danger of weather-related asset damage.
As a result, ACC developed a severe weather readiness action team to perform a deep, analytical dive into weather events across the nation. This team, headed up by Lt. Gen. Chris Weggeman, ACC deputy commander, evaluated actions and evacuation success to determine best practices to share with bases throughout the command.
“We’ve issued a planning directive to all ACC units, which basically puts into place the things they need to plan for and the posturing actions they need to have done ahead of time,” he said. “Instead of the Hurricane Condition (HURCON) framework that we’ve used for years, we’re proposing a HUR-RY framework, which is a great word, but it’s actually ‘hurricane ready.'”
Ready is the watchword in ACC as units are forced to contend with the danger posed by weather while at the same time remaining focused on the threat of peer or near-peer enemy combatants. Reclaiming combat readiness degraded by decades of intensive deployment schedules and budgetary uncertainty has been an area of intensive focus over the last year.
“Increased Congressional funding has yielded improved readiness, and it’s showed as we’ve prepared our bases for Dorian,” said Gen. Mike Holmes, ACC commander.
Holmes attributed the ability to quickly fly aircraft to safety with little notice to an enterprise-wide readiness mindset bolstered by a constant awareness of the command’s priorities.
“It’s not just about aircraft and equipment,” said Holmes. “These aircraft are expensive taxpayer-owned assets, and we have a responsibility to take care of them in order to continue to be combat ready. But they’re not our most important asset — our Airmen are. ACC wing commanders know the key to balancing the concern for both aircraft and Airmen is to evacuate jets in a time frame that allows those crews supporting the aircraft and their families to evacuate the base if need be.
“If we get all the jets to safety but leave Airmen and their families behind to contend with the storm, that’s a failure,” he continued.