Joint Strike Fighter Squadrons to Bring Jobs and Base-Closure Protection, Supporters Say

With the days counting down to the deadline for comments on the Navy’s recommendation for basing the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, local leaders point to the economic advantages and base-closure protection offered by what’s called the 3/2 split.

The Navy’s preferred alternative is to base three operational F-35B squadrons at MCAS Beaufort and house two F-35B training squadrons and simulator centers here, too.

Comments on the Joint Strike Fighter are accepted through July 12. After that, the Navy and Defense Department will review public input and their own research from the draft Environmental Impact Statement. At this point, the Navy is looking to base 11 operational squadrons and two training squadron centers between Beaufort and Marine Corps Air Station-Cherry Point, NC.

South Carolina encourages the use of auxiliary landing fields where pilots practice touch-and-go landings and aircraft carrier approaches. For example, a temporary option at Beaufort could be to use an available runway at McEntire Air National Guard Base east of Columbia as an auxiliary landing field for Beaufort’s F-35Bs. This option came to light last week at a gathering of military base commanders from across South Carolina.

“This is an option that’s on the table right now, it will be available as soon as the F-35Bs arrive in Beaufort, and it will help mitigate some of the noise concerns because pilots will be doing some of the noisiest parts of their training away from Beaufort County,” said retired Marine LtGen. Garry Parks, chairman of the Beaufort County Military Enhancement Committee.

“There are probably other options for an auxiliary landing field that can be explored, but this is an immediate option that takes advantage of existing capacity,” he said.

After public comment closes July 12, the Navy will review data and is scheduled to announce a final decision in December on where to base the East Coast Joint Strike Fighters.

“It’s really about the economics and the base-protection factor of the three operational squadrons and the pilot training centers. Yes, we lose a couple hundred military personnel with the preferred Alternative 1, but we are looking to gain those back – and more – on the civilian side to support the training centers,” Parks said. Those civilian jobs are expected to be relatively high-paying high-tech jobs related to the F-35B simulators and associated training work.

Another advantage of the training squadrons and three operational squadrons, Parks said, is that Beaufort would receive the first batch of Joint Strike Fighters, probably within 48 months. If the Navy were to instead go with what’s called Alternative 3, sending eight operational squadrons to Beaufort but no training centers, those squadrons likely would arrive no sooner than 2020.

And that delay, Parks said, could be devastating should military budgets be cut, F-35B purchases be curtailed, or the Beaufort Air Station be considered unnecessary.  Communities near Cherry Point likely see the cut as a threat and that is why they are making an aggressive bid for all the planes.  Nearly every day, a news story comes out about cuts to the DoD budget and the F-35 planes on the back end of the timeline are extremely vulnerable.

“Every few years the government goes through a Base Realignment and Closure process, where the Defense Department looks at all the military bases to see which ones are truly required for the military mission and which ones are most efficient,” Parks said.

“Having the two large training centers and three operational squadrons of Joint Strike Fighters would continue to make Beaufort Air Station an essential military facility. They say they can always fly out the squadrons in 24 hours, but it’s different when you have the infrastructure associated with pilot training centers.”

On June 22, an estimated 750 people shared their support and their questions about the Joint Strike Fighter at the Beaufort Holiday Inn. It was the largest turnout for any F-35 meeting in the country, defense officials said, and double the number who attended three separate meetings in eastern North Carolina earlier in June.

Bringing five squadrons of F35-B Joint Strike Fighters to Beaufort County will, in addition to the Air Station’s current $615 million annual economic impact, add $300+ million in new base construction and potentially bring 200 high-paying civilian jobs to the area,” said Carlotta Ungaro, president of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“To keep the ‘Sound of Freedom’ flying over Lowcountry skies, and to ensure the safety and protection of this great country, we want people to join Operation F35-Beaufort,” Ungaro said.

In addition to the Beaufort Air Station’s exceptional training areas offshore and the Townsend Bombing Range in Georgia, the region has a highly qualified workforce made up of former military personnel, said Kim Statler, executive director of the Lowcountry Economic Network & Alliance.

The arrival of the F35-B Joint Strike Fighter will help with recruiting new industry to our region while bolstering existing businesses that focus on technology, aeronautics and defense, Statler said. The jets are expected to arrive in 2014, replacing the F/A-18 Hornets.

How can you help?

Comments are accepted through July 12 by visiting http://www.usmcjsfeast.com/Comments. Or, you can write and mail your support by July 12 to: USMC F-35B East Coast Basing EIS, P.O. Box 56488, Jacksonville, FL 32241-6488.

For more information about the Joint Strike Fighter coming to Beaufort, or for a direct link to the Comment page, visitwww.f35beaufort.com.

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