The Air Force on Thursday selected Eielson Air Force Base as its preferred alternative to host the first F-35A Lightning II squadrons in the Pacific region, bolstering the Fairbanks-area installation’s long-term prospects.
In applauding the announcement, Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D) highlighted the turnaround it represents from the Air Force’s February 2012 proposal to relocate Eielson’s F-16 squadron to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
“Today’s decision shows how far we’ve come since the F-16 fight and demonstrates that Pentagon leadership truly recognizes Eielson’s strategic importance,” Begich said according to a press release. “The F-35 is the next generation aircraft for the Air Force and this move speaks volumes for Eielson’s future role in national defense,” he said.
The basing decision will not become final until the service completes the environmental impact analysis process, which could take until November 2015. The Air Force expects the first F-35As to arrive at the selected location in 2019, according to a press release. The chosen base is projected to receive a total of 48 F-35As.
In a surprising move, the Air Force did not name any alternatives to Eielson that typically would also be evaluated, reported the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The Air Force said one of the primary reasons Eielson was picked was its proximity to training ranges.
“Basing the F-35s at Eielson will allow the Air Force the capability of using the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex for large force exercises using a multitude of ranges and maneuver areas in Alaska,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “This, combined with the largest airspace in the Air Force, ensures realistic combat training for the DOD.”