HILL AIR FORCE BASE — While also dealing with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year Hill Air Force Base celebrated 80 years, amped up its F-35 combat deployment tempo and continued to build the program that will replace the nation’s land-based nuclear missile fleet.
Here of the top five Hill AFB stories from 2020:
This year marked the inaugural season of the the Air Force’s F-35 Aerial Demonstration Team being headquartered at Hill. The team — which fulfills its mission of inspiring, engaging and recruiting the next generation of airmen by showing off the capabilities of the F-35 fighter jet — had many shows cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic but is scheduled for a full return in 2021.
Spokesperson Kip Sumner said the team will begin flying a regular rehearsal schedule, operating in and around Hill, beginning in early January. The rehearsal information will be posted to the team’s social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram beforehand, giving Northern Utah residents a chance to see them in action.
On a cold Monday morning in January, Hill’s 388th and 419th fighter wings launched 52 F-35s over what was about a 10-minute period. The jets headed west for the Utah Test and Training Range to perform various missions, then a short time later, flew back to the base.
The effort was intended to demonstrate the wings’ ability to conduct a large-scale combat deployment at a moments notice, a demonstration Hill officials said was intended to send a message not only to potential adversaries, but allies and U.S. military brass as well.
The 2021 national defense bill includes more than $1.6 billion for the Department of Defense’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program, America’s next generation of nuclear deterrence.
Headquartered at Hill, the GBSD program will replace the United States’ current land-based ballistic missile force, which is currently made up of some 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. The full program is estimated to cost more than $80 billion over its 30-year lifespan. The total cost includes the acquisition of missiles, new command and control systems, and large-scale renovations of launch control centers.
Currently being built up near Hill’s southwest border with Roy, the program will eventually include six new buildings with over 1 million square feet of office and lab facilities. In August 2019, Northrop Grumman broke ground on the Roy Innovation Center, which will serve as future headquarters for Northrop’s work supporting the program.
Officials from Hill and members of Utah’s congressional delegation have said repeatedly that the program will be the largest source of growth across the base during the next several years, bringing as many as 4,000 new employees to the northern Wasatch Front, along with the construction of the new buildings.
The 2021 defense bill includes $86 million in GBSD-related construction at Hill.
Since before World War II, Hill has played an integral role in the nation’s defense and Utah’s economy, and in 2020, the base celebrated its 80th anniversary.
According to Hill’s 75th Air Base Wing History Office, the base traces its beginnings to 1934, when representatives from the Ogden Chamber of Commerce teamed with Utah’s congressional delegation to promote the Northern Utah region as a potential site for a national air depot. A good climate for flying, aircraft maintenance and material storage, an established rail center and the area’s inland location (to protect against coastal attacks) were among the selling points presented by the committee.
In July 1934, the military’s Air Corps Materiel Division recommended its “Rocky Mountain Air Depot” be located in Northern Utah. Congress authorized the selection in 1935 and the OCC began buying thousands of acres of land, eventually donating much of it to the U.S. military. By April 1939, the federal government had acquired nearly 3,000 acres of ground to build the base upon.
Groundbreaking for the Northern Utah military installation then known as “Hill Field” began in January 1940.
After a six-month stint in the Middle East, hundreds of airmen from a Hill’s 421st Fighter Squadron returned to Utah in October.
The homecoming marked the completion of Hill’s third combat mission in less than two years, as the Air Force’s only fully operational F-35 combat wing continues to keep a heavy deployment tempo since the base began filling out its fleet of next-generation fighter jets.
The fighter squadron had been stationed Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, since April. Micah Garbarino, spokesperson with the 388th Fighter Wing, said the deployment, which supported the United States Air Force Central Command mission, included both airmen from the active duty 388th and reserve 419th fighter wings. Now each of the wing’s three squadrons, alongside reservists from the 419th, have deployed in support of the Air Force Central Command’s mission at Al Dhafra.
Since the arrival of the first F-35s in 2015, Hill’s two fighter wings have flown tens of thousands of sorties, built millions of dollars of new facilities and taken the jet into real-world combat situations multiple times. Hill F-35 units also have deployed to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the United Kingdom as well as Kadena Air Base in Japan.