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McCain: F-35 basing 'critical' for Az economy, nat'l security

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McCain: F-35 basing 'critical' for Az economy, nat'l security

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Arizona has the honor and privilege of hosting our armed forces at military installations across our state, and we are proud supporters of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

The military's presence in Arizona brings with it significant economic value to the Tucson area. The combined missions of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the 162nd Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard operating at Tucson International Airport are significant economic engines for the greater Tucson area, contributing nearly $2 billion to the local economy. Almost 2,500 citizens work at Davis-Monthan, and 15,000 military personnel and their families live in the Tucson area. The 162nd operates the largest Air Guard F-16 fleet in the country, training pilots from 28 nations at its airport location. In addition to the current positive impact on Tucson's economy, the potential value of the international exposure Tucson receives based on the experiences of these foreign pilots and their families cannot be measured.

The Air Force recently selected Luke Air Force Base as its preferred alternative for the new mission of training F-35A Lightning II pilots. The Air Force plans to base up to the first six training squadrons at Luke. In the future, Tucson's 162nd Fighter Wing may also perform this important mission.

I remain concerned with the cost overruns in the F-35 program. At a time when our country is burdened with exploding federal debt and unsustainable deficit spending by our government, we cannot afford to waste any taxpayers' dollars by allowing continued cost growth and schedule delays on the F-35 program. The Senate Armed Services Committee has held hearings and worked closely with the Department of Defense to improve the management of the F-35 program because it is essential that the F-35 program deliver the numbers of aircraft and the required capability to meet the critical warfighting needs of our military. I will continue to exercise oversight of this troubled program, but my concern about the F-35 acquisition program in no way affects my full support for the Department's decision to base this new asset in our state.

Over the past two months, as part of the process of assessing possible environmental impacts of this decision, the citizens of Arizona had the opportunity to participate in hearings and provide comments about basing F-35s in our state. Hearings were held in Tucson specifically because the Air Force considers the 162nd Fighter Wing a viable location for ANG F-35 pilot training. Representatives from my office attended all but one of the public meetings to fulfill my commitment to ensure an active and collaborative process that assesses and mitigates potential impacts of this new mission, and also to demonstrate my strong support for the Air Force's recognition of the overwhelming advantages of our state, and particularly the Barry M. Goldwater Range, for this important mission.

The State of Arizona is fortunate that, while the Air Force has proposed to cut 30 percent of the A-10 fleet this year in response to the administration's decision to reduce defense budgets, the three squadrons operating at Davis-Monthan will be unaffected if this proposal is approved by Congress. I am confident that the Air Force will continue to preserve Davis-Monthan as a premier combat aviation base in the country, aided by a strong combination of ideal climate, community support, and access to the invaluable Goldwater Range. It is clear that the Air Force will eventually replace A-10s and F-16s with the F-35 Lightning, and I strongly support the Air National Guard in Tucson as the preferred training site for foreign pilots, assuming the Air Force determines such action is in the best interests of our national security. When that time comes, the decision to bring F-35s to Tucson will be informed by the experience of F-35's already flying at Luke AFB and at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.

Arizonans recognize the criticality of supporting F-35 basing as part of a continued strong military presence in Arizona, not just for the economic benefit to our constituents, but also for the strategic benefits our state provides to the security of our nation.

John McCain is a Republican Senator from Arizona.

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