Tucson has been bypassed — at least for now — as a home base for a new Air Force fighter jet.
The Air National Guard’s 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport will not receive the futuristic F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which instead may go to Luke Air Force Base in Glendale.
Luke emerged as the Air Force’s “preferred alternative” in Arizona after initial investigations showed it has a far better ability than the Tucson site to accommodate a large number of jets without the need for major renovations or expense, said Gary Strasburg, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon.
Strasburg said service officials looked at many factors, including public support for or opposition to the new high-noise jet. When it came down to it, though, the biggest considerations were practical ones.
“Luke has the ability to accept three or more squadrons of the aircraft. The capacity is already there,” said Strasburg. A squadron typically is 24 aircraft, he said.
The Tucson site “was not as good as Luke” in that regard, he said, although Tucson may be considered again in two or three years’ time — for example, if the Air Force decides it needs a smaller F-35 site somewhere in the state.
Arizona Sen. John McCain put out a statement Thursday praising the pick of Luke. McCain maintained that the Air Force bypassed Tucson because the Tucson air guard unit is busy for now training foreign F-16 pilots.
In November, McCain told an F-35 press conference in Tucson that the 162nd Fighter Wing guard site was not in competition with Luke, an active-duty base, as home for the F- 35. Rather, McCain said, Tucson was up against another Air National Guard site in Boise, Idaho.
The Republican senator said he Air Force was going to need both active duty and guard bases for F- 35 training, and he predicted both Arizona sites would be selected for their year-round flying weather and proximity to the Barry M. Goldwater training range west of Tucson.
Strasburg, the Air Force spokesman, said Thursday that the service hasn’t yet decided whether it wants to use Air National Guard bases as training sites for the F-35. “That will be part of future considerations,” he said.
Like many new military aircraft, the F-35 has been plagued by cost overruns and delays. Even so, Strasburg said the Air Force is proceeding on the assumption that the jets will start coming online into the Air Force inventory in 2013.
Now that Luke has been picked as one of the Air Force’s top choices, more environmental studies will follow before a final decision on the location next year.
Read more in Friday’s Arizona Daily Star.
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4138.