JBER, Eielson make F-35 short list

AP Photo/Courtesy/Lockheed Martin

The Pentagon announced Feb. 25 that Alaska’s Air Force bases are on the short list of candidates to host a squadron of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the military’s latest generation of fighter aircraft.

“Today is great news for Alaska because it demonstrates the Pentagon recognizes our state’s strategic position in the nation’s defense,” Sen. Mark Begich said in a formal statement following the announcement. “With Alaska’s strategic geographic position, unrivaled training environment and ample air space, there is no better choice for stationing the F-35s in the Pacific.”

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage and Eielson Air Force Base in the Interior are among the five Pacific bases being considered for the squadron. A release from Begich’s office states that an Air Force survey team will visit Eielson and JBER in the coming weeks to further evaluate their potential as F-35 stations. From there, two or three sites will be selected as “preferred and reasonable alternative bases” and receive more detailed study before a decision is made in 2016, according to the release.

In November Eielson was listed as one of eight Pacific bases in the running to host an F-35 squadron.

Begich serves on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.

“I’ve always said that Alaska sells itself in what it provides our military, and from the beginning our case has been clear,” Rep. Don Young said in a statement from his office. “From our 65,000 square mile Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex — recognized for its unique environment, size, and terrain-diverse landscape — to our highly strategic location, Alaska would be a great home for these fighters.”

The Alaska bases inclusion on the Pentagon’s list comes less than five months after the Air Force scrapped a plan to move a 18th Aggressor Squadron F-16 fighters from Eielson to JBER. The plan was widely criticized by Alaska’s congressional delegation and local officials for the negative economic impact it was projected on the Fairbanks area.

“In the Interior, the Eielson and Fairbanks community are ready to go full throttle for the F-35s with their location and range space, while JBER and Anchorage present clear positives as well from a military perspective.  Though issues about the Anchorage area were raised when the Pentagon considered placing F-16s at JBER, I am certain those will be objectively evaluate during this next site visit phase in March,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a release from her office.

Anchorage leaders raised concerns over the city’s ability to absorb the roughly 1,500 it was estimated would move to the city with the F-16s.

Matthew Felling, a spokesman for Murkowski's office, wrote in an email that the squadron would be 48 planes. Young has said each fighter will likely require 100-plus support personnel.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.br[email protected].

11/15/2016 - 4:47pm