The U.S. Air Force announced Tuesday that Eielson Air Force Base and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson are on the short list of potential hosts for 48 new F-35 fighter jets, according to Alaska’s Congressional delegation.
Site survey teams from the Air Force will examine the five sites in the coming weeks before selecting “two or three as preferred and reasonable alternative bases” later this spring, according to a press release from U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.
“Today is great news for Alaska because it demonstrates the Pentagon recognizes our state’s strategic position in the nation’s defense,” Begich said in the release. “With Alaska’s strategic geographic position, unrivaled training environment and ample air space, there is no better choice for stationing F-35s in the Pacific.”
The preferred and reasonable alternative bases selected in the spring would be subject to more thorough evaluation and testing before a final selection is made in 2016, the release went on to say.
The Department of Defense considers the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter its aircraft of the future. Intended to enter service with the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force, it was designed to replace aging fighters in service with all three branches of the U.S. military that fly combat aircraft. None of the F-35 variants have yet been deployed in squadron strength.
According to a draft budget released Tuesday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, F-35s are expected to replace the Air Force’s aging A-10 ground-support aircraft by 2020. An F-35 deployment at an Alaska base would be a strong sign that the Department of Defense does not intend to close that base during the next round of base consolidation, planned for 2017.
U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, accompanied Begich’s statement with one of his own that promotes the unique training opportunities afforded with existing F-22 air-superiority fighters should F-35s be stationed here.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Alaska’s importance to American military operations is growing with time.
“In the 21st century, Alaska is prime military real estate: we have the skies, we have the community support and we reside on the frontlines of the Asia-Pacific region, overlooking the emerging threats from the West,” Murkowski said in a statement. “Today’s announcement only cements the fact that the Last Frontier is a prime component of our nation’s defense.”