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Luke AFB selected for F-35, Tucson remains a candidate

(Courtesy photo)

(Courtesy photo)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter is going to Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., and Tucson International Airport will continue to be an option for a future basing decision Air Force officials announced Aug. 2.

Luke, an F-16 Fighting Falcon training base located west of Phoenix, will house 72 of the fifth-generation fighters for a total of three squadrons. The aircraft are anticipated to begin arriving between late 2013 and mid-2014.

The Record of Decision, taking into consideration environmental impacts, cited Luke's facility and ramp capacity, range access, weather, and its capacity for future growth as factors that make it suitable for an F-35 pilot training center.

"Luke is an excellent location for training future F-35 pilots and we congratulate them on being selected," said Col. Mick McGuire, commander of the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing, an international F-16 training unit. "This is great news for Luke and Arizona. This decision reflects what we've known for decades, that our weather and airspace are perfect for training fighter pilots."

The 162nd, along with Luke, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., and the Air National Guard Station in Boise, Idaho, were the alternatives examined during a three-year Environmental Impact Statement that identified the aircraft's potential effects on air quality, noise, land use and socioeconomic issues.

The Air Force's next basing decision, expected to be announced around December 2014, will designate a home for up to an additional 72 F-35s. All four installations considered in the final EIS, which was published in the Federal Register June 15, will be considered as alternatives in future F-35 training basing decisions and will leverage existing capacity and will rely on the EIS as appropriate to expedite decision-making.

"This decision represents an important milestone in the F-35 basing process and we thank the Southern Arizona community for its support and for partnering with the Air Force and Air Guard throughout the development of the Environmental Impact Statement," said McGuire. "The 162nd Fighter Wing will continue to accomplish its Air Force mission to train pilots in the F-16, and will accept whatever federal or state mission it may be asked to accomplish in the future."

The F-35, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is a multirole fighter aircraft intended to be the Air Force's premier strike aircraft through the first half of the 21st Century. Based upon the Air Force's planned purchase of up to 1,763 F-35A aircraft, it is expected to eventually replace the service's F-16s and A-10s.