Eielson Air Force Base will retain its F-16 squadron even if the installation located outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, becomes the home of two new squadrons of F-35A fighters, officials announced Tuesday.
The Air Force had considered moving the base’s 18th Aggressor Squadron late last year after it named Eielson as the preferred alternative for 48 F-35s slated for the Pacific region. But the service determined that Eielson was “the most operationally sound option, as well as the most cost effective,” said Mark Pohlmeier, acting deputy assistant secretary for installations, according to a press release. The Aggressor Squadron plays the role of enemy forces in training exercises.
The likely basing of F-35s at Eielson and the retention of the F-16s represents a sharp turn for the base after previous attempts to remove all of its flying units, reported the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The turnaround primarily stems from the nation’s pivot toward the Asia-Pacific.
The Pentagon recommended shifting the base’s F-16 and A-10 squadrons and putting the base in “warm” status during the 2005 round of BRAC, but the BRAC Commission reversed the proposal to move the Aggressor Squadron elsewhere. Separately in 2012, the Air Force proposed moving the F-16 unit to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage to save money, but the service eventually shelved the idea.
This week’s announcement also signals a significant economic boost for the Fairbanks region, as the construction required for the F-35 squadrons will be greater with the F-16s staying put, according to the News-Miner. The unit accounts for 2,300 military and civilian jobs at Eielson.