The Marana Town Council has proclaimed its support of the efforts to bring the F-35 Lightning II to the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport.
Tucson is on the "short list," with Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix and others, to become a training site for pilots on the F-35. "We're not in competition," said Col. Gregory N. Stroud of the Air National Guard. "We believe the F-35 and Tucson are a perfect fit."
The F-35 is the successor fighter aircraft to the F-16, and is "critical to the future defense of our country," Stroud told the council last week. Pilots from some two dozen nations and the U.S. come to Tucson for F-16 training. "Remember how strategically important this is," Stroud said.
The 162nd is the largest Air National Guard fighter wing in the country, and is the 39th largest employer in Southern Arizona. It has 1,540 personnel, a payroll in 2008 of $106.62 million, and an estimated $280 million annual impact, Stroud said.
If the F-35 is flown for training in Tucson, "it won't mean growth," Stroud said. "The F-16 will eventually go to the boneyard." Training on the new aircraft "would maintain the wing." It could also bring up to $150 million in construction projects to the region, Stroud said.
The new plane is "quite advanced," Stroud said. "The technology really leaps ahead. This is quite possibly the last manned military fighter aircraft this country will ever build." Plans are to build 1,763 of the planes by 2035. The first 250 should be finished much earlier. "If we keep passing every hurdle, we could get this airplane as early as 2013," he said.
Stroud is aware of the controversy over F-35 noise. "I think the public should wait until the scientific data is out there," he said. The F-16 is "the quietest aircraft we have."
"I appreciate any public support you can give our effort," said Stroud, citing the nation's future defense as well as the community's economic stability.
"To me, it's an absolute no-brainer," said Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler. "We'll just help you in any way we can."
"We want to do all we can to support you in this very important project for Southern Arizona and our country," Councilman Russell Clanagan said.
The Air Force is expected to make a decision on sites for F-35 training by this fall, with a "record of decision" in early 2011.
The council had previously sent a letter to Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup supporting the F-35 in Tucson.
There is a Web site in support of the effort, TucsonF35.com.