Air Force officially chooses Eielson for F-35s
A long-awaited and expected announcement came Monday by the U.S. Air Force that two squadrons of F-35 fighters will be deployed to Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks.
A total of 54 new aircraft and an estimated 2,765 personnel will be part of the deployment, with construction to begin in fiscal year 2017, which begins Oct. 1.
The two squadrons of F-35s will join the F-16 Aggressor squadron and the 168th Air Refueling Wing currently assigned to Eielson. The first jets are scheduled to arrive in 2020.
“Alaska combines a strategically important location with a world-class training environment,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James in a statement released by the Public Affairs office for the 354th Fighter Wing. “Basing the F-35s at Eielson AFB will allow the Air Force the capability of using the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC) for large force exercises using a multitude of ranges and maneuver areas in Alaska. This, combined with the largest airspace in the Air Force, ensures realistic combat training for the (Defense Department).”
The announcement made formal what had long been anticipated, especially after construction began last year on a F-35 simulator at Eielson AFB.
A release from the Alaska congressional delegation applauding the decision stated that construction activity associated with the siting of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter is expected to create a total of 2,339 new construction jobs and generate $453.4 million in economic output over the next four years.
That’s on top of some $1 billion in spending at Clear Air Force Station near Nenana and Fort Greely at Delta Junction currently planned or underway for upgraded missile defense radar and additional interceptors.
“The decision to base two F-35 squadrons at Eielson AFB, Alaska, combined with the existing F-22 Raptors at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, will double our fifth-generation fighter aircraft presence in the Pacific theater,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “Integrating that fifth-generation force with Navy, Marine, and allied F-35 forces will provide joint and coalition warfighters unprecedented survivability, lethality and battlespace awareness in contested environments. It’s an exciting time for Pacific airpower.”
Members of the congressional delegation and Gov. Bill Walker noted in their official comments that it wasn’t long ago that Eielson was targeted for closure, and then the reassignment of the F-16 that would have essentially done the same.
The Air Force dropped the plan to move the F-16s out of Eielson in late 2013. More recently, the delegation challenged a U.S. Army proposal to cut the 4th Infantry, 25th Brigade, also known as the 4-25, from Fort Richardson in Anchorage. Citing the state’s strategic Arctic location, emerging threats in the Pacific theater and the 4-25 status as the only Airborne Brigade in the region, the delegation convinced the Army to delay any force reduction.
“It’s clear DOD understands that Alaska’s strategic value — its vast training areas, proximity to the Asia-Pacific, and our commitment to serving our military — is unmatched anywhere else in the world,” said Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young.