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Posted Jul 29, 2010, 11:05 am
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter won't thunder through Tucson skies any time soon.
Luke Air Force Base in Glendale was chosen over Tucson International Airport as a preferred training base for for the new jet.
The Pentagon said Thursday that the Air Force will defer a decision on basing any F-35s at TIA, given the 162nd Fighter Wing's "critical current mission of training foreign pilots in the F-16," Sen. John McCain said in a press release.
The Tucson-based unit trains pilots from other countries to fly the fighter jets. Singapore and Holland recently decided to move their F-16 training to Tucson.
"Although the F-35 will not be coming to Tucson in the initial round of basing, I am encouraged that we have the Air Force’s assurance that the F-16 mission will endure for the next decade," Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said in a press release.
Luke AFB, in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, is the world's largest F-16 base. That aircraft is being phased out of the Air Force in favor of the new F-35. Luke would possibly have been left without a mission if it hadn't been selected as the home for F-35 training.
The Air Force also announced that F-35s will be based at Hill AFB in Utah and Burlington Air Guard Station in Vermont for operational missions. 59 F-35s will also be stationed at Eglin AFB in Florida.
Besides Tucson, sites in Idaho, New Mexico, Florida and South Carolina were passed over.
"The preferred alternative is an alternative which the Air Force believes best fulfills its mission and responsibilities, taking into consideration environmental, operational, technical and other factors," the Air Force said in a news release.
The basing decisions are not final, and are dependent on environmental impact studies.
F-35s are not scheduled for operational deployment until 2018.
The F-35a Lightning II is a conventional takeoff and landing version of the plane for Air Force use. Short takeoff variants are intended for the Marine Corps and British forces as a replacement for the Harrier jet. The aircraft will also be used by the Navy.
Gov. Jan Brewer hailed the announcement as a "testament to Arizona’s great team effort."
"Having Luke selected as the F-35 training center was personal for me. Luke is in my backyard, and I was a founding member of Luke’s Fighter Country Partnership," Brewer said in a news release.
"It is my hope that Tucson International Airport should and will ultimately prevail in the future for the F-35 mission, especially with its continued strength in the training of foreign pilots in the F-16," Brewer added.
The "training of F-16 foreign pilots remains a robust and vital mission for many years to come," McCain said. The senator said he's "confident that the F-35 will be stationed at Tucson... at some point in the future."
McCain had announced in June that he was confident that Luke would be selected.
"There will be another round of F-35 basing decisions in 2014 and I am confident that Tucson again will be strongly considered – both at the 162nd and at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base," Giffords said. She said the decision to continue F-16 training at TIA is a "ringing endorsement" for the 162nd Fighter Wing.
About 1,440 people, including 1,000 full-time employees, work at the 162nd, which is the largest National Guard fighter wing in the country.
F-35 training in Tucson is opposed by some who are concerned about the jet's volume. The new fighters are considerably louder than the current F-16s.
The Air Force will perform an environmental impact study of the F-35 and Luke over the next year. A first draft of the study is expected in September.