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AF Picks Alaska to Host First Operational 'Overseas' F-35 Squadrons

Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, was selected as the new home for the Air Force’s first operational overseas F-35A Lightning IIs. (U.S. Air Force photo/Chad Bellay)
Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, was selected as the new home for the Air Force’s first operational overseas F-35A Lightning IIs. (U.S. Air Force photo/Chad Bellay)

The first operational "overseas" F-35 Joint Strike Fighter squadrons will be assigned to Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, the U.S. Air Force announced on Monday.

"Alaska combines a strategically important location with a world-class training environment," Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a statement.

Basing the stealthy fifth-generation fighter jets at the location "will allow the Air Force the capability of using the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex for large force exercises using a multitude of ranges and maneuver areas in Alaska," she added.

The location offers "the largest airspace in the Air Force" -- some 65,000 square miles -- and will ensure realistic combat training for the Defense Department, she said.

Eielson will be getting two squadrons of the F-35A Lightning IIs. The base already has an F-16 Fighting Falcon squadron operated by the 354th Fighter Wing.

Combined with the existing F-22 Raptors flown by the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the F-35s will double the number of fifth-generation fighter aircraft assigned to the Pacific theater, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh.

The Joint Strike Fighter has received no shortage of criticism from those who have watched its costs skyrocket over the 15 years of its development, even as new technical glitches continue to surface.

But the aircraft’s procurement costs were recently estimated to slightly decrease and the Air Force, which planes to declare its version of the plane ready for initial operations later this year, insists it meet all the expectations set for it well over a decade ago.

"I have never been associated with a program in my 25-plus years of acquisition where the public perception and the reality are so different," Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the program executive officer at the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office, said last month. "Part of that is our problem for not telling the story."

Costs for both the F-35 aircraft made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and the F135 engine made by Pratt & Whitney declined 4.1 percent to $332 billion and by 5 percent to $60.7 billion, respectively, from previous forecasts due in part to "revised estimates," according to the figures.

Overall, the program -- the Pentagon’s most expensive acquisition effort -- is now estimated to cost $379 billion for a total of 2,457 aircraft and engines.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at Bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.

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