Arizona's Luke Air Force Base gets F-35 mission


by The Associated Press and

Video report by Mike Watkiss

Posted on August 1, 2012 at 1:01 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 2:20 AM

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Glendale officials say the Department of Defense has chosen Luke Air Force Base for the new training center for F-35 fighter jets.

Representatives with Luke's 56th Fighter Wing scheduled a news conference Wednesday afternoon to talk about the Air Force's decision.

The 71-year-old base in west Glendale was competing with bases in Tucson, New Mexico and Idaho for the F-35 mission.

“This is a great day for Luke,” said Brig. Gen. JD Harris, 56th Fighter Wing commander in a news release. “Our selection for F-35 training ensures the long-term viability of our mission of training the world’s greatest fighter pilots, which we’ve been doing at Luke for seven decades.”

Luke has long been the training ground for F-16 pilots. The F-35 is intended to eventually replace the aging F-16.

Glendale officials say Luke could receive up to $125 million in federal funds for construction-related projects and the F-35s could arrive as early as next year.

The Record of Decision cited several reasons why Luke was the service’s top choice, including facility and ramp capacity, range access, weather, as well as capacity for future growth.

“We’re the envy of the Air Force when it comes to community support,” said Rusty Mitchell, director of Luke’s Community Initiatives Team in a news release. “While there has been development that’s grown out toward Luke, the community has made every effort to ensure that the growth has been compatible with our mission. We cannot thank our West Valley neighbors enough for letting us be part of the community, not just in the community.”

In addition to training U.S. pilots, Luke will also serve as an F-35A International Partner Training site.

Statement by Governor Jan Brewer
“This is a proud day for Arizona, as the United States Department of Defense has officially announced Luke Air Force Base as the designated location for the Air Force’s new F-35 training center.

“With this welcome and long-awaited news, Luke AFB will be home to the F-35A Lightning II (Joint Strike Fighter) training mission. The base will initially receive three squadrons – totaling 72 next-generation aircraft. The DOD announcement also allows for the potential of Luke AFB to receive up to three additional squadrons of F-35’s over time as F-16’s are gradually retired from the Air Force.

“Luke AFB is the largest active-duty F-16 training base in the world. But with the Air Force scheduled to phase-out and retire the F-16 between now and 2025, it was critical that Luke AFB receive this critical assignment for the F-16’s replacement: the F-35.

“Today’s announcement not only ensures Arizona will continue to play a leading role in our nation’s security and defense, it also helps assure the long-term viability of Luke AFB and its status as a critical driver of jobs and local economic development. The base alone generates more than $2 billion in statewide economic impact every year, and its designation as a training center for the F-35 is expected to create more than $100 million in immediate federal investment. That’s good news for the thousands of Arizona civilians and businesses that will benefit from the additional jobs, wages, consumer spending and tourism dollars that will be generated as a result of the F-35 basing.

“Over the last 70 years, Luke AFB has trained and graduated more than 56,000 of the finest fighter pilots this world has ever known. The selection of Luke AFB for the F-35 mission is a testament not only to the reputation of the base, but also to the dedicated and unified support of public officials, business leaders, local communities and regular Arizonans all across our great state. Thank you. This day would not have been possible without your efforts.”