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New Squadron Coming To MCAS Yuma

Although it is still several years from happening, eventually, all of the operational and tactical testing for every type of Marine Corps aircraft, except for one type of large helicopter, will be conducted here at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.

According to Maj. Ken Karcher, the detachment commander for VMX-22, relocating the squadron, which is currently based at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., to MCAS Yuma will be about a five- to seven-year process and is set to begin sometime either in the late summer or early fall of 2015.

“Until the squadron exists here in Yuma, though, nothing is 100 percent certain,” Karcher said. “The Marine Corps has never had a single multi-platform squadron before. For the first time ever, the Marine Corps will merge multiple types of aircraft into one squadron for the purpose of integrated operational testing.”

Once the transition is complete, which should be about 2021, Karcher said VMX-22 will consist of about 400 personnel and 25 to 30 aircraft of various types. Those aircraft, he said, include unmanned aerial vehicles, the F-35 Lightening II, the MV-22 Osprey, the CH-53K Super Stallion, the AH-1 Viper and UH-1 Venom.

“Those are no different than any other of the air frames you see flying around now,” Karcher said. “You will just see them parked out on the flight line permanently.”

Karcher explained that VMX-22 is an operation test and evaluation squadron for the Marines Corps and is primarily responsible for conducting operational tests in support of newly developed aircraft and programs.

Currently there are only four members of the squadron assigned to MCAS Yuma, including Karcher, with a fifth scheduled to arrive by the start of the new year.

The detachment, he said, is expected to grow to eight Marines by the summer and then gradually increase in numbers until the squadron has a full complement of Marines and sailors.

Karcher explained that in July an aviation command and control, and unmanned aircraft system department, was established at MCAS Yuma, and that it will eventually become squadron VMX-22.

Since its arrival, Karcher said the detachment has been involved in developmental testing for air controls systems, a new radar and small tactical unmanned aerial systems, and will continue to do so during the transition.

Although the squadron does not have any aircraft attached to it yet, Karcher said it has already established a basic capability to conduct operational, developmental and evaluation testing at MCAS New River, and is currently involved in conducting testing for the MV-22 Osprey.

“Physically, nothing is here in Yuma yet,” Karcher said. “The air frames are all still in New River,”

Initially, Yumans won’t see any major changes at MCAS Yuma, Karcher said, other than the squadron’s hangar, which is currently under construction, being completed. The first aircraft, he added, aren’t scheduled to arrive until 2015 and it will be a control center and five small unmanned aerial vehicles.

Karcher explained that the Marine Corps has been waiting for these unmanned aerial vehicles for many years and the squadron will conduct operational testing of the aircraft on the Barry M. Goldwater Bombing Range and in support of Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics -1 (MAWTS-1) exercises.

The next aircraft to arrive, which is expected to be in 2018, will be a detachment of F-35s that are currently stationed at Edwards Air Force Base taking part in ongoing operation testing on the new jet. Once that testing is complete, the detachment will relocate to MCAS Yuma.

“The have a couple of air frames they borrow from here from VMA-211, and they work with the Air Force there to continue operational testing,” Karcher said. “That detachment will also include British pilots from the Royal Air Force. It will truly be a Marine squadron, but will have a coalition flavor to it.”

The rotary aircraft, such as the will be MV-22 Osprey, the AH-1 Viper and UH-1 Venom, will be the last to arrive, with the CH-53K Super Stallion set to relocate to MCAS Yuma by 2021.

Karcher said while there are many benefits to relocating the VMX-22 to MCAS Yuma, one of the most important reasons is that the squadron will be able to integrate the operational testing it conducts with the advanced combat tactics and training developed by MAWTS-1.

“The link between test and evaluation and tactics and training must be enduring and mandatory,” Karcher said. “It ensures weapons systems are put into service fully capable with the right skills and training for deployment.”