Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, will be the home of the Air Force’s first operational overseas F-35A Lightning IIs starting in 2020, under the record of decision the service signed Monday.
“Alaska combines a strategically important location with a world-class training environment. 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,” Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a news release.
Proximity to the JPARC will enable the Air Force to take advantage of about 65,000 square miles of available airspace for training in the Air Force’s most advanced fifth-generation fighter. The base, located outside of Fairbanks, is projected to receive two squadrons of F-35As, which will join the F-16 Fighting Falcon Aggressor Squadron currently assigned to Eielson.
Monday’s decision culminates a three-year process that included an extensive environmental impact statement that examined impacts on such factors as air quality, noise, land use and socioeconomics. It also follows years of lobbying by Alaska’s elected officials striving to protect the base, reported Alaska Dispatch News.
Adding two F-35A squadrons at Eielson would boost the base population to 7,751, the Air Force estimated in its environmental review released in February. The report estimated the new squadrons would add 1,076 active-duty personnel, 487 civilian and contractor employees, and 1,202 dependents.
New buildings and upgrades to existing infrastructure needed to accommodate up to 54 F-35s and more than 1,500 military and civilian personnel will require construction estimated to cost $453 million, according to the story. Construction is slated to begin in fiscal 2017, the Air Force said.
Basing two F-35 squadrons at Eielson AFB, combined with the existing F-22 Raptors at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, will double the service’s fifth-generation fighter aircraft presence in the Pacific theater, said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark 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,” he said.