Reuters News Service: U.S. states vie to land F-35 fighter bases

WASHINGTON, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Vermont, Utah, Florida, Idaho and South Carolina moved closer Thursday to landing operating bases for Lockheed Martin Corp's (LMT.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.

The U.S. Air Force also said locations in Idaho, Florida, New Mexico and two in Arizona were being examined as potential training bases for the radar-evading, single-engine jet, now in early production.

Attracting the F-35, the Pentagon's costliest acquisition program at $300 billion over coming decades, would be a shot in the arm to surrounding communities.

An Air Force spokesman, Vincent King, said it was too early to determine how much might be spent to prepare the sites to accommodate the plane.

Next steps in the selection process include a formal environmental impact analysis of each of the 11 final candidate bases, including Shaw Air Force Base and McEntire Air Guard Base in South Carolina. The analysis will give communities around each base a chance to provide input.

The list announced Thursday was based on such criteria as airspace, flight training ranges, weather, support facilities, runways, taxi ramps and environmental concerns.

Also taken in account were "military judgment factors" such as combatant commander requirements, aircraft retirements and delivery schedules, aircraft maintenance and logistics support, and integration with the Air National Guard and Reserve, the Air Force said in a statement.

The announcement sparked celebrations and disappointment among various lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

"Today is a great day for Utah," Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said in a statement cheering the inclusion of Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah.

Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said he would continue to work to bring the F-35 to his state's Luke Air Force Base and Tucson International Airport Air Guard Station. McCain said he would engage the Air Force to ensure the final base selection process was "fair, transparent, and takes into consideration the strong history of support by local communities in Arizona."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, bemoaned the absence of her state's Eielson Air Force Base and said she would protest to senior defense officials.

Air Force officials expect to winnow the list again next year based on the environmental impact studies and site assessments. Final decisions are expected in early 2011, the Air Force said.

The U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps will each fly a different model of the F-35.

Source: Originally published by Reuters on October 29, 2009