Brewer wants F-35s based at Luke AFB
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Brewer wants F-35s based at Luke AFB

Governor hopes to keep jobs and money at base

WASHINGTON — Gov. Jan Brewer was in Washington Wednesday to urge the secretary of the Air Force to base the service’s next-generation F-35 fighter jets at Luke Air Force Base near Glendale.

The move could preserve thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue at the base, which is currently home to 138 F-16 fighters. But those jets are scheduled to be replaced by the F-35 – the so-called Joint Strike Fighter – in coming years.

“Hopefully (we) come out with great results that that will take place in the near future,” Brewer said.

Brewer, who also had meetings on Capitol Hill with some members of the state’s congressional delegation, was scheduled to meet with Air Force Secretary Michael Donley. Air Force officials confirmed that the meeting took place but did not otherwise comment on the meeting Wednesday.

Arizona leaders have been pushing the Air Force for the new squadrons for a few years now. The campaign picked up pace as the military announced plans to move two F-16 training squadrons from Luke to New Mexico’s Holloman Air Force Base by 2014.

Luke Air Force Base employs more than 6,200 military and civilian personnel and generates just under $2.2 billion in direct and indirect revenues for the state each year, according to estimates from the base.

Those numbers have fallen slightly since the Air Force began moving planes to different bases, but supporters said Luke still remains an economic booster for the state.

According to Fighter Country Foundation, a group dedicated to bringing the new jets to Luke, construction projects needed to accommodate F-35s at Luke could be worth $125 million to $150 million alone.

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The Pentagon is currently conducting environmental impact studies around bases, including Luke, where the F-35s might be deployed. The studies are expected to be completed this winter and a decision on where the F-35 squadrons will be deployed could come next year.

Among the lawmakers the governor met with was Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who continues to fully support the campaign to bring the jet fighter to the West Valley, an aide said.

“Sen. McCain will continue his longstanding work to bring the F-35 to Luke by ensuring that the final base selection is fair … and takes into consideration the strong history of support by local communities in Arizona,” McCain spokeswoman Rachael Dean said in an email.

In September, McCain wrote Donley to complain that the proposed move of the F-16 squadrons to Holloman would waste taxpayer money.

“The Air Force recently estimated that the military construction costs related to the transfer would be $47 million to duplicate capacity at Holloman that already exists at Luke,” McCain wrote in his Sept. 8 letter.

Brewer was accompanied to Washington by two aides, according to her office. She is scheduled to return to Phoenix on Friday, after attending the Women Working for Change conference in a nearby Maryland suburb.

Conference organizers are paying for Brewer’s hotel accommodations Wednesday and Thursday nights in Washington, said her spokesman in Phoenix.

“The state is only paying for expense related to state business,” said spokesman Matt Benson in an email.

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U.S. Air Force

An F-35 Lightning II taxis down the flight line at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in April 2009. The jet is a fifth generation, single engine, stealth-capable strike fighter and can perform close air support, tactical bombing and air defense missions.

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