Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, celebrated the beddown of its full complement of F-35s on May 13, with a ceremony just weeks after the base received the last of its 54 fighters.
The arrival of those F-35s in mid-April gave Eielson the Air Force’s second fully equipped, combat-coded F-35 wing, comprising two fighter squadrons.
The celebration marking the official end of a two-year beddown process featured Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach, commander of Pacific Air Forces, and Col. David J. Berkland, commander of the 354th Fighter Wing, as well as officials from Lockheed Martin.
“The task of standing up two new F-35 squadrons was not small,” Wilsbach said during the ceremony, according to an Air Force release. “You made it look easy, but we know it was not. That’s because of the professionalism of the Airmen who work here at Eielson. The Icemen did a fabulous job of standing up this capability here, and the community around Eielson has also been incredibly supportive not only of our Icemen and our mission but this aircraft as well. We’re grateful in so many ways this mission has been so welcomed here.”
The Air Force selected Eielson to be home to the first operational overseas F-35s in 2016, and the 354th Fighter Wing accepted the first two aircraft in April 2020. At Eielson, fighter jets are able to reach anywhere in the northern hemisphere in one sortie and have access to the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, which features more than 75,000 square miles of airspace for training.
While the final jets have arrived, the work of fully integrating and settling the F-35 onto the base is still ongoing.
Berkland previously told Air Force Magazine that the 354th FW maintains a high operations tempo as it looks to build its experience and comfort level with the new fighter—some 44 F-35 training sorties a day. As that training continues, the 354th hasn’t declared initial operational capability yet.
It’s not just pilots that have to adapt to harsh Arctic conditions though—the challenge of maintaining the F-35s when temperatures are frequently sub-zero is one the Air Force has tried to address by spending some $600 million on 39 military construction projects.
Lt. Gen. Warren D. Berry, deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering, and force protection, detailed some of those projects while testifying to the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee May 19, explaining how Eielson has created the space necessary, if needed, to ensure that no F-35 has to be parked outside.
“In the 2017 appropriations [bill], we had $161 million to build two 16-bay weather shelter facilities for the F-35s. Those are in place. There are another 18 parking locations indoors for F-35s, and when necessary, the wing can clear out some more space to make room for four, which handles all 54 of the F-35s,” Berry said. “So from what we see, we don’t see a shortfall of storage locations for housing F-35s indoors.”
Still, Berry indicated that more facilities are being worked on to support the F-35 mission.
“We also had in FY20 a project to build storage facilities for the support equipment that goes with the F-35s as well. So that project is underway to provide some indoor storage for those support equipment requirements for the F-35,” Berry said.