Glendale officials say the Department of Defense has chosen Luke Air Force Base for the new training center for F-35 fighter jets.
“The goal of our statewide initiative was to send a clear message to the decision makers in Washington D.C. that Arizona strongly supports Luke Air Force Base continuing to serve as our nation’s premier fighter pilot training facility,” said Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs, co-chair of the Luke Forward campaign.
The 71-year-old base in west Glendale was competing with bases in Tucson, New Mexico and Idaho for the F-35 mission.
“Arizona’s military industry is one of the largest industries in our state, and Luke serves as the anchor,” Scruggs said. “This new F-35 training mission will bring with it decades of tremendous military value to our national security and sustainable economic benefits to our region and state. I want to thank and recognize all the elected officials and citizens of the West Valley cities and Maricopa County for standing firm in their unwavering support of Luke Air Force Base all the way through to the end of the F-35 basing process.”
The Luke Forward campaign was developed by the West Valley Partners and Fighter Country Partnership to generate awareness and support of the positive impacts the Air Force’s next generation strike fighter will bring to the state. The partners include the cities of Avondale, Buckeye, El Mirage, Gila Bend, Glendale, Goodyear, Litchfield Park, Peoria, Phoenix, Surprise, Tolleson, Wickenburg and Youngtown, as well as Maricopa County.
Fighter Country Partnership Chairman Charley Freericks, who co-chaired the campaign with Scruggs, believes the widespread community support garnered for the F-35 by Luke Forward elevated Arizona from states in other parts of the country where the Air Force was considering placing the F-35.
“Through Luke Forward, we were able to engage nearly 10,000 residents to attend public hearings, send emails or phone Air Force representatives in support of Luke and to get 21,000 citizens from throughout the state to register their support of the F-35 at LukeForward.com,” said Freericks. “This tremendous support, from state and local officials, business partners, homeowners associations, residents, retirees and others, really made us stand out among the competition.”
The Air Force will initially place three squadrons, totaling 72 F-35s, at Luke AFB starting as early as next year to replace two of Luke’s F-16 squadrons allocated for Air Force training – keeping Luke’s ramps full, along with the 26 F-16s at Luke dedicated for foreign military training. The new F-35s will most likely arrive at Luke AFB in phases over the next couple years.
The decision ensures Luke’s 56th Fighter Wing will now be the Air Force’s F-35 pilot training site, or “school house,” as well as continuing F-16 training for fighter pilots in the foreseeable future. The Air Force may station up to six F-35 squadrons totaling 144 aircraft at the Glendale base as F-16s are retired.
In addition to ensuring the long-term viability of Luke AFB, the F-35 training mission will also serve as an economic stimulus for the Valley’s beleaguered construction industry as the new fighter will require construction projects, facility improvements, infrastructure upgrades and other maintenance and repairs.
As a result, Luke can anticipate receiving an infusion of $100-$125 million within months from the federal government to pay for these construction-related projects. Much of this federal investment will positively impact the regional and state economies with local labor and suppliers of construction material. Nearly 3,000 construction jobs are estimated to be created in preparation of the F-35’s arrival.