Sen. Rick Scott speaks to 325th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Brian Laidlaw and other leaders at Tyndall AFB, Fla., on April 29. Scott visited Tyndall to discuss rebuilding efforts that will aid the base to repair damage from Hurricane Michael. Air Force photo by A1C Monica Roybal.
Officials at Tyndall AFB, Fla., on Aug. 5 sent Congress a list of projects the Air Force will tackle to rebuild the Panhandle base destroyed by Hurricane Michael last fall, the 325th Fighter Wing’s commander said Aug. 14.
Rebuilding about half of the buildings that were damaged is estimated to cost about $3 billion over five to seven years, the wing’s commander Col. Brian Laidlaw said at a Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing in the Florida Panhandle. Air Force Magazine reported in April that new military construction would cost about $2.5 billion, about half the cost of the total restoration.
Tyndall plans to spend about $650 million more on recovery and repair contracts by the end of September, Laidlaw said. He expects the base will execute more than $1 billion in contracts for supplies, repairs, utilities, and other base services in all of fiscal 2019, not including military construction projects.
“With the additional money that we got during the supplemental, that enabled us to continue with that long list of projects that we had,” Laidlaw told Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “We had to put some on hold for a while as we waited [for] the supplemental, but we are back doing those again.”
Recovery contracts are split into two categories: one group for salvageable buildings that need fixes like new roofs and windows, and another group for structures that need to be rebuilt altogether. Earlier this summer, lawmakers passed a disaster-aid supplemental spending bill that provided $1 billion in military construction funds and $670 million for operations and maintenance to cover expenses related to damages at Tyndall and Offutt AFB, Neb.
Seventy-three percent of military and civilian personnel are now back at Tyndall, or 85 percent when including associated airmen at Eglin AFB, Fla.
“With the exception of our F-22 and T-38 flying operations, much of which we are conducting out of Eglin, and our Noncommissioned Officer Academy, which we plan to stand up sometime next year, we have fully resumed all of our missions at Tyndall,” Laidlaw said. “Some have moved back into recently repaired facilities like our air traffic control tower, our First Air Force headquarters, and our air battle manager schoolhouse. Others will continue to work in temporary, modular facilities and Sprung shelters until we rebuild their permanent structures.”
He argues “full recovery” will mean something different to various groups on base, since some projects will be done before others.
“What [the first F-35A arrival in fall 2023 is] going to do is drive a certain minimum number of military construction projects that we need to prioritize with the funding that we do get,” Laidlaw said.
The Air Force is studying the environmental impact of putting three F-35A squadrons at Tyndall as well as standing up a new MQ-9 wing on base. Tyndall will likely need between 1,200 and 1,800 additional personnel to staff both the F-35 and MQ-9 programs if they are formally approved. Laidlaw said future staffing levels are still under consideration but that bringing those two platforms to the base will grow it to be larger than it was before the hurricane.
Laidlaw expects base personnel won’t see much difference between operating the F-35 and its former occupant, the F-22, because both are fifth-generation fighter jets that will live at the base in large numbers.
After recently consulting with a range of stakeholders including AFWERX, one of the Air Force’s innovation-focused groups, the base plans to hold its third industry day on Sept. 12 in nearby Panama City to discuss reconstruction.
“If it all works out Tyndall won’t just be as good as it used to be, it’ll be bigger and better and more important than it was before the storm, and I think that’s a very positive development for the community,” Rubio said.