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First F-35s in Pacific likely headed to Eielson

Aug. 7, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
An F-35A flies a flight test at sunset at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
An F-35A flies a flight test at sunset at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (Lockheed Martin)
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The first F-35s assigned to Pacific Command will likely be stationed in inland Alaska, the Air Force announced Thursday.

Eielson Air Force Base has been selected as the “preferred alternative” to house the fifth-generation fighter in the Pacific, the service said. The base was picked based on its location, existing infrastructure and proximity to a training range. Eielson also is home to Pacific Air Force’s premiere training exercise, Red-Flag Alaska, and is easily accessible by training partners from Korea and Japan.

If officially selected, the base will host two F-35 squadrons. They would join an F-16 aggressor squadron and a KC-135 refueling unit already at the base.

The preliminary decision means that the Air Force’s newest fighters, the F-35 and the F-22, would both be in Alaska. F-22s have been based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson since 2007.

“The potential one-two punch of F-35s with our F-22 fighters at JBER creates tremendous synergy for high-end training at the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, and would ensure Air Force pilots and joint force operators are the most capable and ready forces in the world,” Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement.

Eielson has been the frontrunner for the F-35 unit since candidate bases were announced last fall. The Air Force also considered Osan Air Base, South Korea, and Kadena and Misawa air bases, Japan. Now, the Air Force will conduct an environmental impact study at Eielson , with the final announcement expected next fall.

“Eielson was the clear choice, due to Alaska’s undeniable strategic geography, our vast training areas, and the state’s strong commitment to the military,” Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement.

The base has been undergoing renovations recently, including improvements at the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex and construction of a new 168-room dormitory.

Air Combat Command’s new F-35 homes have already been announced, with Hill Air Force Base, Utah, set to become the first operational base and Burlington International Airport, Vermont, to be the first Air National Guard base. Instructor pilots train on the aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, with the main training base set to be Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

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