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Air Force official: Eielson a top pick to house F-35s

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Posted: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 8:19 am, Fri Aug 2, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The commander of the Pacific U.S. Air Force told a group of defense journalists Monday morning that Eielson Air Force Base is one of the top contenders to be the second base to house the military’s newest fighter plane, according to the publication Inside Defense.

The final decision for the next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program won’t be made until 2014, but Gen. Herbert Carlisle was quoted that among nine Pacific region bases, Eielson was likely to be among the top four picks.  

“We haven’t downselected, but I would say that Eielson, Misawa, Kadena (two bases in Japan) and maybe Osan (in South Korea) would be the four,” he said, speaking at a breakfast for journalists hosted by the Defense Writer’s Group, a group of Washington,  D.C.-based journalists who cover the Defense Department. “That would be my guess, and then we would downselect from those four to a preferred alternative.”

Inside Defense writer Gabe Starosta reported Carlisle said Joint Bases Elmendorf-Richardson and Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii won’t likely get the F-35 because they already have squadrons of F-22 fighter planes. Carlisle said Andersen Air Base in Guam is unlikely because of congestion, while Yakota Air Base in Japan is unlikely because it’s used by

C-130 cargo planes, Starosta said.

“That leaves four locations in Northeast Asia — Osan and Kunsan Air Bases in South Korea, as well as Misawa and Kadena Air Bases in Japan — along with Eielson AFB. But air-to-ground range space is limited in both Korea and Japan, Carlisle said, highlighting restrictions at Misawa and Kadena ABs,” Starosta reported.

“In contrast, expansive training space is Alaska’s biggest asset. Eielson AFB also would require minimal military construction and offers easy access from Japan and South Korea.”

Also at the meeting, Carlisle said the Air Force plans to begin using the

F-35 by 2016, Inside Defense reported. An F-35 base in the Pacific is scheduled to be the second placement of

F-35s, after a base in the contiguous United States, which Inside Defense reported the Air Force is “close to confirming” will be in Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

A transcript or audio recording of this morning’s breakfast was not immediately available from the Defense Writers Group.

Capt. Robert Howard, a spokesman for the Pacific Air Forces at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Hawaii said Monday evening he was not familiar with any official decisions about the Pacific F-35 basing, but was also pursuing a copy of Carlisle’s remarks.

“I don’t know if it was a decision or his recommendation,” he said. “As far as I’ve heard, there’s been no final determination.”  

The Air Force’s F-35 placement comes at the same time the service is attempting to cut costs by transferring to Anchorage Eielson’s sole remaining active-duty aircraft, a squadron of F-16 fighter plans used for training exercises.

Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation president and CEO Jim Dodson, who’s been working to challenge the Air Force’s decision to move the F-16s for the last 18 months, reacted to the development of the F-35 placement with cautious optimism Monday.

“It’s good news and we should take it as good news.  But today we don’t even how many F-35s they’re going to build,” he said.

While the placement of new aircraft in the Interior represents a major opportunity, it’s far from certain when or if the new aircraft and associated airmen and civilian workers would arrive. Meantime, it’s important that the community continues to oppose the F-16 transfer, which could happen more quickly if there is not strong resistance, Dodson said. If the Air Force Base follows up the F-16 transfer by tearing down buildings, there might not be a base for the F-35s to use, he said.

“If this community had done nothing they would already have moved the

F-16s,” he said.

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.

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