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F-35 Slated for AZ, FL, UT, and VT

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AZ, FL, UT, VT to get Air Force's new F-35 fighter


PHOENIX — The U.S. Air Force has chosen bases in Arizona, Florida, Utah and Vermont as homes for the military's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, prompting applause from officials banking on the pricey new combat jets to supercharge their communities' economies.


Operational missions of the single-engine jets would go to Hill Air Force Base in Utah and the Burlington Air Guard Station in Vermont, the Air Force said Thursday. For training, the Air Force recommended Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. The Air Force also announced Wednesday that 59 F-35 jets would be stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.


The announcement of these bases as "preferred alternatives" is a disappointment for seven bases passed over during this round of selections, including sites in Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida and South Carolina.


But U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was jubilant at the inclusion of Luke, located in Phoenix suburbs. Military backers there have waged a vocal campaign to win the jets, as have groups in other states where bases are trying to preserve their relevance as fleets of aging F-15 and F-16 fighters edge toward the scrap yard.


"The unparalleled capabilities inherent to Arizona — from the Barry M. Goldwater Range, to great flying weather, and strong support from state and local governments and communities — serve to provide the best environment and the finest quality of life for our military personnel training in the Air Force's next generation fighter," McCain said.


The Department of Defense said Thursday's basing decision includes 250 to 300 F-35 aircraft. According to McCain, three squadrons with dozens of aircraft would be based at Luke if the Air Force finalizes its decision.


So far, Lockheed Martin Corp. has built just a few of roughly 2,400 F-35s that the United States says it wants to buy, but the plane's cost already has more than doubled to some $113 million apiece.


Other bases under consideration included Mountain Home Air Force Base and Gowen Field in Idaho, Tucson International Airport in Arizona, Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Jacksonville Air Guard Station in Florida, and Shaw Air Force Base and McEntire Air Guard Base in South Carolina.


Military officials said Thursday's announcement isn't cast in stone.


Kathleen Ferguson, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, said the other sites — she called them "reasonable alternatives" — will continue to be evaluated as part of environmental studies.


Maj. Gen. Stanhope Spears, the adjutant general for South Carolina, said he was disappointed with the announcement, but the McEntire base is still in the running.


"Right now, we don't have specifics on when additional candidate bases will be announced," Spears said. "We currently have the newest and most capable F-16s in the United States Air Force and will continue to be an elite fighting force."


In Idaho, officials counting on a $1 billion boost to the state's economy from up to 3,000 new personnel and 144 planes at two sites were taking heart in the military's plans to eventually buy thousands of F-35s.


"Given the number of F-35s our nation is going to be building, this isn't the end of the story," said John Revere, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. "Congressman Simpson firmly believes Gowen Field and Mountain Home remain strong contenders for future siting decisions."


Gowen got some consolation when it was named a finalist for a C-27J Spartan cargo plane operational mission, the Defense Department said. The other operational-mission finalist for the twin-engine plane is Great Falls, Mont.


The Air Force also announced Thursday that Holloman, in New Mexico, was being transitioned to an F-16 training mission, with the capacity to take on two squadrons.





Associated Press Article

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