Oklahoma Delegation Presses Air Force to Base F-35 in Tulsa

Oklahoma's congressional delegation is pressing the U.S. Air Force to base the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in Tulsa.

In a Dec. 21 letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the state's two U.S. senators and five representatives urged the service's top civilian to consider the Oklahoma Air National Guard's 138th Fighter Wing in Tulsa as the next home for the F-35A, the stealth fifth-generation fighter made by Lockheed Martin Corp.

The lawmakers touted the wing's location at the north end of the Tulsa International Airport, with its "experienced cadre" of pilots and maintainers, airspace and training ranges, and facilities ready to operate and sustain the F-35A -- one of three variants of the plane and designed for conventional runways.

"As the second-largest National Guard fighter wing in America, Tulsa is ideal for operating this caliber of fighter jet," Sen. James Lankford, a Republican, said in the letter, according to a press release. "Our training capabilities, infrastructure and community support makes Tulsa the ideal strategic location for this key national security asset."

In addition to Lankford, the letter was signed by Sen. Jim Inhofe and Reps. Frank Lucas, Tom Cole, Jim Bridenstine, Markwayne Mullin and Steve Russell.

The Air Force is considering two National Guard wings as future bases for the F-35A, according to the release. While these aircraft wouldn't start arriving until 2022 or 2023, a decision is expected sometime over the next year, it states.

The F-35 is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons acquisition program, estimated to cost $391 billion to purchase 2,457 aircraft for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. The Corps this year declared the F-35B ready for initial operations -- albeit with a less lethal version of the aircraft. The Air Force is expected to follow suit in 2016 and the Navy in 2018.

Eight countries have committed to help develop the F-35, including the U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway. Also, Israel, Japan and South Korea plan to buy production models of the aircraft.

--Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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