The Air Force -- earlier expected to make a decision by fall -- may not decide until December or early 2017, House Armed Services member Vicky Hartzler said. Whiteman is one of four bases the Air Force is considering for F-35s.
"We feel really good about Whiteman's chances," Hartzler said. "I've been visiting with a lot of generals, and the deputy secretary of the Air Force just last week, about the benefits of having the F-35s come to Whiteman."
Sen. Roy Blunt, Senate Armed Services Committee member Claire McCaskill, Hartzler and the seven other House members from Missouri sent the Air Force a letter of support for placing the F-35s at Whiteman.
The letter offered to incentivize Whiteman as the choice.
Appointed this year as the first Missouri Military Advocate, Joe Driskill said Monday his office is coordinating closely with the congressional delegation. He declined to get into specifics about potential economic support.
"We are examining options ... with the least amount of capital investment," he said. "We are deeply involved in making sure Whiteman has the greatest chance to be selected."
Each base has advantages and disadvantages and supporters want to increase Whiteman's advantages.
"We are aware of what the competition looks like," Driskill said.
What adding to Whiteman's advantages might cost has not been determined, he said.
"We're going to have to come to some conclusions on that fairly soon," he said. "We're exploring mechanisms for being able to address some of these capital improvements issues."
Driskill works within the Missouri Department of Economic Development.
"State leaders are discussing a strategy to provide economic development resources to support capital improvements needed at Whiteman," the letter to Air Force stated. "Currently, the state is taking a close look at the possibility of funding construction of the required simulator facility and new apron to accommodate the F-35 if Whiteman is selected."
The call to add F-35s comes at a time when the Air Force wants to mothball the A-10 Thunderbolt II. The plan is that F-35s should replace A-10s as a close air support platform. If that happens, and F-35s do not come to Whiteman, then there would be no replacements for A-10 personnel working within the 442nd. As a result, surrounding communities would absorb millions in economic losses.
Whiteman personnel have proven their worth, Hartzler said.
"Certainly the 442nd has had multiple deployments. They know the close air support mission better than anybody, and certainly that's going to be a very important mission for the F-35, as well as the stealth capabilities that the aircraft provides," she said.
Whiteman is home to the B-2, the world's first stealth bomber. Combining stealth bomber and fighter missions could provide a basis for joint work between stealth aircraft.
"It's something that we mention as an opportunity because you do have the B-2s there and you have the F-35s potentially there, as well as the Guard unit, and you could have some joint exercises there that could have real-world implications and benefits for our national security," Hartzler said.
Whiteman is a strong contender to become a home to the fighters, Hartzler said, because base personnel work together regardless of different missions.
"The joint operations there -- between the active duty, the Reserve and the Guard -- is something the Air Force is very proud of and wants to continue at replicating," she said, "and there are fantastic facilities, community support. All of the officials within the Air Force that I've visited with are aware of those things and as the process moves on, we're going to continue to advocate for Whiteman and hope for a good outcome."
The letter laid out reasons the fighter should come to Whiteman.
"We agree that Whiteman offers a tremendous lack of encroachment; access to quality, extensive, and unencumbered airspace; first-rate infrastructure; and protected access to ranges," the members wrote in their joint letter to the Air Force. "Whiteman would also provide a number of other operational benefits and efficiencies above and beyond the strategic basing criteria that we ask you to consider. ... Missouri is proud to be a partner to the United States Air Force and our state leaders join us in our shared commitment to working with you to make Whiteman the best possible home for the Joint Strike Fighter."