Thursday, October 29, 2009

Eielson AFB, Alaska Excluded From Final Round Of Competition To Host The F-35 Fighter Jet After Being Considered A Top Six Finalist In 2008

Disappointed members of Alaska's Congressional delegation announced on October 29th, 2009 that Eielson AFB did not make the final round of competition to host the new F-35 fighter. Adding to the disappointment is the fact that, according to Senator Lisa Murkowski, Eielson was on a short list of six bases under consideration for the F-35 at this time in 2008; this short list also included Shaw AFB, SC; Mountain Home AFB, ID; Moody AFB, GA; Hill AFB, UT; and Eglin AFB, FL. Specifically, this is in reference to the F-35A model, tailored for the U.S. Air Force. Alaska media stories published by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and KTVA Channel 11.

Congressman Don Young (R) said in this statement, “This is extremely disappointing news. With strong community support, vast air space, a lengthy runway, and close proximity to Russia and Asia, Eielson is the perfect location for these fighter jets to train. Alaska is on the front line when it comes to adversarial countries like North Korea and should be at the forefront of defense technology. Eielson is the best place for the F-35's and I’m sorry that the Department of Defense could not recognize that."

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) said, in part, ...“I am deeply disappointed that the Air Force abandoned its previous short list, which was based on the priorities of its warfighting commanders, in favor of a new list, based upon a point scoring system of uncertain validity. Although the Air Force will not tell us precisely how Eielson scored until tomorrow, we will be protesting this decision to senior defense officials. I am at a loss to understand why Eielson moved from one of the six most promising bases for F-35 deployment to today’s position where some 65 Air Force Bases are deemed more promising"... Full statement HERE.

Senator Mark Begich (D) said, in part, "Given Alaska's important geographic and strategic advantages for the overall defense of our country, I am disappointed to learn that none of Alaska's Air Force bases were chosen as one of the preferred locations to base a portion of the Air Force's first 250-300 aircraft in the F-35 JSF [Joint Strike Fighter]. This is particularly disappointing since the Air Force indicated last fall that Eielson was on the 'short list'. The Air Force designed this current selection process to be more objective and less political than those in the past, and I appreciate that. But I still plan to inquire how this process was managed and that the advantages of Alaska's bases were clearly understood and taken into account in this decision"... Full statement HERE.

And this is not over with. Alaska's Congressional delegation drafted a joint letter asking top Air Force officials for a briefing as to why the Air Force dropped Eielson Air Force Base from a short list of potential installations to base the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Read the letter HERE.

According to Southern Maryland Online, the F-35 is a single-seat, single-engine, stealth-capable military strike fighter that will provide aircraft weapon support to troops on the ground, the ability to precisely drop/shoot weapons, and the ability to conduct airspace patrol and defense missions. will replace the following aging fighter aircraft, including the U.S. Air Force A-10s and F-16s, U.S. Navy F/A-18s, U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers and F/A-18s, and U.K. Harrier GR-7s and Sea Harriers. One flight-ready F-35 currently costs $83 million to produce.

Three versions of the F-35 are being manufactured to support different mission needs: the F-35A, a conventional takeoff and landing variant for the U.S. Air Force; the F-35B, a short-takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) model for the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.K.; and the F-35C, carrier version that is designed to take off and land on U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. The F-35B and F-35C will be tested and developed at NAS Patuxent River, MD.

Air Force Link reports the following 11 bases have been selected as candidate bases for the F-35A:

-- Boise Air Terminal Air Guard Station, Idaho
-- Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
-- Holloman AFB N.M.
-- Luke AFB, Ariz.;
-- Tucson International Airport Air Guard Station, Ariz.
-- Burlington International Airport Guard Station, Vt.
-- Hill AFB, Utah
-- Jacksonville International Airport Air Guard Station, Fla.
-- Mountain Home AFB, Idaho
-- Shaw AFB, S.C.
-- McEntire Air Guard Base, S.C.

The Deseret News reports that of these 11, Hill AFB, Mountain Home AFB, and Shaw AFB are the most likely to get active full operations squadrons that will fly the F-35 as early as 2013. Considering that Burlington is the only place on the list subject to extreme cold in winter, I wonder if Eielson's severe wintertime cold suddenly made it a liability for the F-35.

"The selection of this candidate list is the result of a deliberate, repeatable, standardized and transparent process," said Kathleen Ferguson, Air Force deputy assistant secretary for installations. "We are excited about the future of the joint strike fighter and look forward to working with each of the communities surrounding these bases to ensure all of their concerns are addressed."

The list of candidate bases were selected using previously announced basing criteria such as airspace, flight training ranges, weather, support facilities, runways, taxi ramps and environmental concerns, and military judgment factors such as combatant commander requirements, aircraft retirements and delivery schedules, aircraft maintenance and logistics support and integration with the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. Formal environmental impact analysis process and site assessments will now begin. This will whittle the list further by late spring 2010, with a final decision anticipated in early 2011.

But it may not necessarily be a smooth journey. Bloomberg reports that Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell cited an independent study showing a continued risk of cost increases. He characterized the new cost estimate as being pessimistic and explained it continues to raise concerns about the course the program is on. The cost assessment of the fighter is an update to one completed a year ago. The earlier study estimated the program may need as much as $16.6 billion more than planned through 2015 for research and production. Morrell declined to give precise figures from the latest assessment.

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