Eielson AFB, Alaska, was chosen as the home base for the Air Force’s first operational overseas F-35A strike fighters, the service annou?nced Monday. The base will get two squadrons of F-35As. “Alaska combines a strategically important location with a world-class training environment. Basing the F-35s at Eielson AFB will allow the Air Force the capability of using the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex for large force exercises using a multitude of ranges and maneuver areas in Alaska,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a written release. The decision will “double our fifth-generation fighter aircraft presence in the Pacific theater,” noted Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. Construction on base is slated to begin in Fiscal 2017 and planes will begin arriving in 2020, which is slightly later than preliminary estimates, states the release. However, the service will “slightly” accelerate the arrival of F-35As at Burlington AGS, Vt., to the fall of 2019, allowing it to stick to its overall F-35 rollout schedule, said Lt. Gen. John Cooper, chief of staff for logistics, engineering, and force protection. Cooper cited the fighter maintenance shortage as the reason for the changes. (See also Building Homes for F-35s from the March 2015 issue of Air Force Magazine and USAF F-35s, by the Numbers.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.