Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Alaska officials rip F-35 decision

Eielson Air Force Base will not be home to a group of F-35 fighters, the Department of Defense says.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said that a year ago the Pentagon considered Eielson one of the top six contenders, but now it has fallen to the point where about 65 bases are deemed more suitable for the new jet.

She said, the Air Force had scheduled meetings in the Interior in November 2008 to begin preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement.

“Those meetings never occurred. Today we learned that Eielson is not on the top of the heap for the F-35s but ranks in the middle third of all Air Force bases evaluated under a new set of criteria,” she said.

All three members of the Alaska delegation said they are disappointed with the news.

“I am deeply disappointed that the Air Force abandoned its previous short list, which was based on the priorities of its warfighting commanders, in favor of a new list, based upon a point scoring system of uncertain validity. Although the Air Force will not tell us precisely how Eielson scored until tomorrow, we will be protesting this decision to senior defense officials," she said.

Sen. Mark Begich expressed similar sentiments:

"Given Alaska’s important geographic and strategic advantages for the overall defense of our country, I am disappointed to learn that none of Alaska’s Air Force bases were chosen as one of the preferred locations to base a portion of the Air Force’s first 250-300 aircraft in the F-35 JSF. This is particularly disappointing since the Air Force indicated last fall that Eielson was on the “short list,’” said Begich in a prepared statement.

"The Air Force designed this current selection process to be more objective and less political than those in the past, and I appreciate that. But I still plan to inquire how this process was managed and that the advantages of Alaska’s bases were clearly understood and taken into account in this decision," Begich said.

“Knowing the Air Force plans to procure more than 1,700 F-35s in total and the next round of basing decisions will take place in 2013, we will continue to work with the DoD in my capacity as a Senate Armed Services member to see what opportunities are ahead for Alaska in the future,” he said.

Rep. Don Young said in a prepared statement “Eielson is the best place for the F-35’s and I’m sorry that the Department of Defense could not recognize that.”

The Deseret News in Utah, quoting Congressional sources, said Utah’s Hill Air Force Base, Mountain Home, Idaho and Shaw, S.C. were the three sites chosen for the fighter out of more than 200 bases.

Elected officials from many states wanted the planes based on their home turf. From all of those states there were assertions that “my state is the ideal place to put the planes.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told a TV station in his state about how important this plane is: "The F-35 will replace the military’s F-16, A-10, AV-8B, and some F/A-18 fighter aircraft. It’s the future aircraft of the Air Force and the bases that house the F-35 will be among the most valuable in our arsenal.”

Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican, said of the news: "We’ve gone through the swimsuit competition and now it’s time for the evening gown portion. This is good news for Hill Air Force Base."

Source: By Dermot Cole. Originally published on October 29, 2009