U.S. Rep. Ron Barber today promoted Tucson for future training missions of the Air Force's next generation stealth fighter jet. In a letter, sent this morning, he urged the U.S. Air Force to consider the 162nd Fighter Wing of the Arizona Air National Guard for the next round of basing for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
"Basing these planes in Tucson would be critical to Southern Arizona's future economy," Barber said today. "The 162nd is a premier training wing with experience in the mission of international pilot training and the F-35 is an excellent fit for it and for Tucson."
In a letter to Michael B. Donley, secretary of the Air Force, Barber asked for a meeting "to discuss the ability of the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing to deliver exceptional F-35 pilot training." Barber noted that the 162nd has "an exemplary service and safety record."
Since 1985, the 162nd has been training U.S. and international pilots to fly the F-16 fighter -- the plane that will be replaced by the F-35. The wing has trained pilots from 24 of the 25 countries that fly the F-16, which makes the unit "uniquely qualified to continue collaboration with our allies and support F-35 training missions," Barber wrote.
In addition to the assets of the 162nd, Barber noted that Southern Arizona has excellent flying weather with more than 300 days of sunshine annually. It also is close to the Barry Goldwater range west of Tucson where pilots can practice air-to-air maneuvers and attack simulated battlefield targets.
"I have met with business leaders, elected officials and members of our community and I can confirm that there is widespread support for bringing the F-35 to Tucson," Barber wrote.
A copy of Barber's letter is below and attached in pdf format.
Hank Peck, chairman of the DM50 Public Policy Committee, today supported Barber's action. The DM50 is a group formed to support the mission and the personnel of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.
"I applaud Rep. Barber for taking a leadership role on this important community issue," Peck said today. "Having F-35 pilots trained in Tucson reinforces the important role Southern Arizona and the 162nd Fighter Wing have in our national security.
"The training conditions in Southern Arizona are unmatched and we are pleased to do our part for national security and for our Air Force," Peck added. "This training would provide a needed boost for our local economy and strengthen our position as an aerospace-friendly community."
Dave Sitton, a member of the DM50 board, agreed that the 162nd Fighter Wing is a good choice to train F-35 pilots.
"The 162nd Fighter Wing, an important tenant at Tucson International Airport, is perfectly positioned to train pilots for this nation's next-generation fighter, the F-35," Sitton said today. "The benefits of modernized training at the 162nd are significant and numerous to our nation, our allies, and our community."
John DelFrari is president of the 162nd Fighter Wing Minuteman Committee, a support group for the wing. He also supported Baber's request.
"The F-35 and the 162nd Fighter Wing of the Arizona Air National Guard are a perfect fit," DelFrari said. "Southern Arizona has a long history of hosting and supporting the military and bringing the F-35 to town would continue that partnership. Thanks to Rep. Barber for urging the Air Force to take this step."
Michael J. Blaker, a Tucson commercial banker and DM50 member, added: "Rep. Barber understands how important the F-35 is to the economic strength of Tucson and Southern Arizona. Tucson's growth and prosperity is tied to a continued strong military presence and I agree that the F-35 must be a part of our future."
Last month, the Air Force announced that it had chosen Luke Air Force Base in Glendale as one of the first pilot training centers for the F-35. That mission is expected to bring an estimated 1,000 direct and indirect permanent jobs and $17 million annually in local, state and federal tax revenues.
It is expected that once the first training bases are operational, possibly sometime next year, the Air Force will look for additional pilot training locations -- especially for pilots from allied countries that also will purchase and fly the planes.
September 14, 2012
Secretary Michael B. Donley
Department of the Air Force
Washington, D.C. 20330
Dear Secretary Donley:
I am writing to express my strong support for your consideration of Southern Arizona as the next home for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). As the Air Force continues its process to determine the next round of basing decisions for the F-35, I am requesting a meeting with you to discuss the ability of the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing to deliver exceptional F-35 pilot training.
The 162nd Fighter Wing is a premier pilot training base. The unit maintains an exemplary service and safety record, with a high level of experience in its maintenance workers and instructor pilots. The F-16 was first based in Tucson in 1985, and since then the 162nd Fighter Wing has trained U.S. and international pilots to fly this multipurpose fighter. To date, the Wing has trained 24 of the 25 countries that fly the F-16, making the 162nd vital to our country's international training mission and uniquely qualified to continue collaboration with our allies and support F-35 training missions.
In addition to the proven assets of the 162nd Fighter Wing, Southern Arizona has unequalled access to airspace for military training and operations, providing pilots with state-of-the-art training capabilities in varied terrain and a realistic training environment. The Barry Goldwater range provides 57,000 cubic miles of airspace in which fighter pilots can practice air-to-air maneuvers and engage simulated battlefield targets on the ground. When our allies acquire the F-35, they will find no better place to train their pilots then at the 162nd Fighter Wing.
Additionally, the close proximity to installations including Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Yuma Marine Corps Air Station, Luke Air Force Base and Navy Station El Centro will allow pilots flying the F-35 to utilize the full combat capabilities of this fighter plane. Southern Arizona offers ideal flying conditions with more than 300 days of sunshine each year. This year-round flying weather will allow for virtually uninterrupted pilot preparation, with few cancelled training missions due to weather.
I have met with business leaders, elected officials, and members of our community and I know that there is widespread support for bringing the F-35 to Tucson. I look forward to discussing this with you further when we meet and will ask my staff to follow up with your office to confirm a mutually convenient time and date for our meeting.
Member of Congress