Kirtland tapped to host Ghostrider training unit

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The Air Force said Friday it has chosen Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico to be the next home of the AC-130J Ghostrider’s formal training unit.

Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama has also been selected to be the FTU for the MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter, the Air Force said in a separate release that day.

Seven aircraft and 372 positions would go to Kirtland as part of the process of moving the Ghostrider’s FTU from its current home at Hurlburt Field, Florida, the Air Force said.

The move to Kirtland would allow Air Force Special Operations Command to realign its training mission under Air Education and Training Command, the Air Force said, and consolidate initial and mission qualification training for the AC-130.

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The fourth-generation Ghostrider is the Air Force’s latest iteration of the powerful AC-130 gunship, featuring multiple armaments including a 30mm and 105mm cannons. The Air Force also hopes to mount a laser weapon on the AC-130J in the near future.

The Grey Wolf FTU is in charge of training pilots to provide security and support for intercontinental ballistic missile fields across Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska, the Air Force said. The new helicopter will be able to fly faster, farther and longer than the UH-1N Huey when supporting the Air Force’s ICBM mission, as well as being able to carry out other missions such as civil search and rescue and airlift support.

General Timothy Ray, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, and Col. Michael Jiru, Air Force Materiel Command program executive officer, depart the the MH-139 aircraft shortly after their arrival Dec. 19, 2019, at Duke Field, Fla. (Senior Airman Dylan Gentile/Air Force)

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If Grey Wolf training does come to Maxwell, it will replace the mission of the 908th Airlift Wing, a Reserve wing, and its aging C-130H cargo planes there, the Air Force said.

“As the lead command for the Air Force’s MH-139 helicopter fleet, bringing the MH-139 FTU online is an important step to ensure the nation’s nuclear triad remains safe, secure, effective and ready,” Gen. Tim Ray, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said in the release.

Ray also said the Grey Wolf will be able to quickly bring more security forces out to missile fields, and provide better security overhead for ICBM convoys.

The Air Force will next conduct environmental impact analyses on both sites before a final decision is made. The final decision on the Grey Wolf site will be made in winter 2021, the Air Force said, but it did not say when the final Ghostrider decision will be made.

Relocating the Ghostrider training unit is expected to begin in summer 2022, the Air Force said, and the first Grey Wolf helicopters are expected to begin arriving at Maxwell in 2023.

About

Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.

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