HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The U.S. Air Force announced Tuesday that Hill Air Force Base will be the first operational base for a fleet of stealth fighter jets.
Beginning in 2015, the base will permanently house 72 F-35A Lightning ll fighter jets. The base has housed one since September, a factor in the decision with its already present F-35 depot with fleet maintenance and support.
Tage Flint, president of the Utah Defense Alliance, said the community anticipated the announcement and is thrilled.
"It ensures that there's an active military presence at this space, which translates to the base having longevity," he said. "That's important because the community in northern Utah is very much dependent on that base being viable for good jobs and just the economic health of the whole area."
The Air Force said the F-35 will replace the F-16 with greater speed and combat range as well as lower maintenance costs with a computerized self-test system.
“The F-35 is critical to ensuring our dominance over the battlefield in today and tomorrow’s advanced threat environment," Col. Lance Landrum, 388th Fighter Wing commander, said in a prepared statement. "Hill is the perfect place for this weapons system given the nearby Utah Test and Training Range, our existing infrastructure, and continued support from the local community."
The process to choose Hill Air Force Base took about four years and was made after a 30-day waiting period and completion of an environmental impact statement. The statement involved a process that examines the impact on air quality, noise, land use and socioeconomics.
"The F-35 is critical to ensuring our dominance over the battlefield in today and tomorrow's advanced threat environment."
“The review process for the delivery of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was extensive, and the world-class facilities and wonderful personnel at Hill Air Force and throughout our state make this the right choice for our state and our country," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a statement. "I’ve been proud to stand with the Utah congressional delegation and state leaders to continue pushing for this opportunity for Utah and our country."
Flint credits the community and community leaders' support in the base being chosen.
"I think this is a culmination of a lot of good work by our community and the Air Force in making sure that a very good location was selected for the first quadrants to be based," Flint said.
Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Rob Bishop, both R-Utah, also praised Tuesday's announcement.
Bishop, senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the decision "is a clear vote of confidence in the future" of Hill.
"The unique capabilities of the support systems at Hill Air Force Base, comprised of active duty and reserve military personnel as well as civilian defense workers, are second to none," he said in a statement. "This decision is very good news for Utah."
Lee, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that the decision is a logical one given the facilities at the base, proximity to the Ogden Air Logistics Complex and the Utah Test and Training Range and support from the local community.
"The Air Force has a unique relationship with the state of Utah that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the country," Lee said.
Flint said he doesn't see any downsides to the announcement.
"We are very used to having fighter jets located at this base," he said. "The transition is going to be fairly smooth and the community is already used to having that kind of activity around."