The Air Force on Tuesday will announce plans to base a squadron of F-35s in Vermont, largely ending years of debate on the basing of the next-generation fighter in the state. (File)
The Air Force will base the first operational F-35As at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and the first National Guard unit at Burlington International Airport, Vt., the service announced Tuesday.
The announcement ends about four years of study and deliberation, including multiple environmental impact studies looking at the long-term impact of basing the next generation fighters and both public support and opposition to the plans in Vermont.
Hill will receive the first operational F-35As, and was selected because of its location near training ranges and because the base is home to the F-35 depot.
“Hill AFB is ideally suited to assure a successful path to Initial Operational Capability,” said Timothy Bridges, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, in a release. “The nearby Utah Test and Training Range provides access to one of the largest and most diverse airspace and range complexes in the Air Force. Access to high-quality airspace and ranges is essential for the first operational F-35A wing.”
Hill is home to the active-duty 388th Fighter Wing and the reserve 419th Fighter Wing, and will be flown by both components.
“Flying F-35s alongside our active duty counterparts is a great example of the Air Force’s ‘Total Force’ vision, which seeks to increase capability from new technology while leveraging the experience, stability, continuity and cost effectiveness of our Reserve personnel,” said Col. Bryan Radliff, 419th Fighter Wing commander, in a release.
Construction on the base will start immediately, with F-35s arriving beginning in 2015. The base will receive 72 F-35As, which will replace 48 F-16s already assigned to Hill.
Vermont is expected to receive 18 F-35As beginning in 2020. The basing of the jets faced opponents who raised concerns about potential safety issues with a new jet near a population center, and potential noise issues.
“Burlington Air Guard Station (AGS) was selected because it presents the best mix of infrastructure, airspace and overall cost to the Air Force,” Bridges said. “Burlington’s airspace and ranges can also support projected F-35A operational training requirements and offers joint training opportunities.”
The state’s political leadership announced the decision Tuesday, praising it as a continuation of the Air National Guard’s presence in the state. The base currently has 18 of the oldest variants of the F-16 and an active-duty associate unit assigned to the Guard that will also transition to F-35s when they arrive.
“The Air Force has made clear that this aircraft, which will anchor our national air defenses, is the Air Force’s future,” the delegation said in a statement. “Now the men and women of Vermont’s Air National Guard have been chosen for a vital role in that future. The decision ensures the Vermont Air Guard’s continuing mission and protects hundreds of jobs and educational opportunities for Vermonters while securing its significant contribution to the local economy.”