Cherry Point will continue playing a vital role in the service of the nation in the coming years, according to the recently released 2016 Marine Aviation Plan.
An expanding role of unmanned aerial systems and the possibility of an additional training squadron are highlighted in the plan, which outlays the aviation goals of the Corps for the next decade.
The 2016 Marine Aviation Plan indicates that the Marine Corps is exploring expansion of the F-5 training program, which could mean additional aircraft for Cherry Point, along with Marine Corps air stations Beaufort, S.C., Yuma, Ariz., and Miramar, Calif. The program allows for pilots to train for air-to-air combat situations.
The Marine Composite Training Squadron concept calls for six F-5 training jets and six turboprop training aircraft at Cherry Point. The number of aircraft would be tailored to training requirements and future study my affect the numbers and the types of aircraft in the units.
“As the F-35 footprint grows, so will the demand and need for adversary training,” said Maj. Clark Carpenter, public affairs officer at the Pentagon. “The F-5 fills this critical role by simulating adversary aircraft in a training environment.
“The Marine Corps does not yet have an estimate on the number of F-5 aircraft or the increase in personnel that would be necessary to support an adversary element in Cherry Point. This information is dependent on F-35 transition timelines. We continue to plan for this critical move to ensure our aviation element remains ready to support our role as America’s premier expeditionary force in readiness.”
There is a steady increase in operations for Marine Unmanned Aerial Squadron 2 at Cherry Point, under the plan. The RQ-7 Shadow platform will be phased out by the end of 2016 as the MQ-21 Blackjack is used in greater numbers through 2024. The unmanned aerial vehicle reserve component, VMUT Fleet Replacement Detachment currently at Cherry Point, will become a fully operational Fleet Replacement Squadron for the MQ-21 Blackjack, according to the plan.
Unmanned aerial systems will also play a larger role in electronic warfare in the future. According to the plan, the Marines have played a large role in ground-based sense and avoid systems for unmanned aerial systems, and Cherry Point had the first certified system of this type.
The Marine Joint Strike Fighter Squadron geo-location chart continues to indicate 94 aircraft for Cherry Point, including four squadrons of 16 aircraft, two squadrons of 10 aircraft and one reserve squadron of 10 aircraft. The plan is from the 2010 Basing Record of Decision resulting from two Marine Corps Joint Strike Fighter environmental impact studies, though an asterisked note at the bottom of the page states “basing plans are subject to change and further environmental analysis.”
The schedule for the transition of Cherry Point’s AV-8B Harrier squadrons to F-35Bs remains in place. According to the plan, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 223 will be the first Cherry Point squadron to transition in 2023 and 2024, followed by VMA-542 in mid-2023 to mid-2025, both squadrons having 16 planes each.
Then, Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533, which now is an F/A-18 squadron based at MCAS Beaufort, will transition to F-35B and move to Cherry Point in late 2024 to late 2026, with 16 planes.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 231 at Cherry Point will transition from Harriers to F-35Bs from mid-2026 to mid-2028, with 16 planes.
Simultaneously, another MCAS Beaufort-based F/A-18 squadron, VMFA-115, will move to transition to F-35Cs from mid-2026 to mid-2028, with 10 planes.
Some 18 months later, at the beginning of 2028 through the end of 2029, Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 will leave MCAS Iwakuni in Japan and transition to F-35Bs at Cherry Point with 10 planes.
The seventh JSF squadron for Cherry Point would be Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 112, a reserve squadron from MCAS Eagle Mountain Lake at Fort Worth, Texas, from 2031 to 2032 with 10 planes.
According to the plan, all Harrier squadrons on the East Coast will be consolidated at Cherry Point by the year 2021 and will continue service until VMA-231 transitions to F-35Bs by the middle of 2028.
The deactivation for Cherry Point’s four electronic warfare squadrons of EA-6B Prowlers is still the same, with VMAQT-1 standing down this year, VMAQ-4 standing down in 2017, VMAQ-3 standing down in 2018 and VMAQ-2 ending service in 2019.
The 2016 plan calls for no changes through 2026 in Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, which has a fleet of 15 KC-130Js at Cherry Point.
In the coming years Cherry Point will see a laydown of some simulators and creation of newer simulators for newer platforms. An RQ-7 Shadow simulator will be replaced in 2017. HH-46 simulators will also be disposed of in 2017. Simulators for the EA-6B will begin shutting down in 2017, with the last three shut down in 2019. AV-8B Harrier pilots will get a new simulator this year, along with four new simulators for the KC-130J this year, 2017 and 2020. Four new simulators for the F-35B will be built in 2023, plus two more planned for 2024 at Cherry Point.
The two C9B transport aircraft currently attached to Marine Transport Squadron One will be transitioned to Fort Worth in the fourth quarter of 2017. The Marine Corps has plans to replace the jets with C-40A aircraft as soon as they are available.
The plan calls for the deactivation of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467 during 2016. The squadron has 18 AH-1 Cobras and 12 UH-1 Hueys and is based at New River, part of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. The squadron stood up in April 2008.
At New River, a new MV-22 Squadron Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 212 will begin standing up in 2019 and be ready in 2020.