HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The Pentagon announced on Tuesday that Hill Air Force Base will be home to state of the art fighter jets, set to be released in 2015.
The base will hold the U.S. Air Force’s first operational F-35A Lightning II, a plane said to be the most sophisticated fighter jet in the air, as well as the most costly.
“The F35 is definitely the latest and greatest,” said Col. Lance Landrum, commanding officer of Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing.
The 72 jets scheduled to land at HAFB will replace 48 F-16 planes currently being used by both the 388th and 419th wings.
“These are very complicated weapons systems that we’re trying to plan for the next 25 to 30 years of being able to operate it,” said Col. Bryan Radliff, commander of the 419th .
HAFB beat out other bases around the country to bring the new fighter jets to Utah, but the plane’s route to Ogden has not been so calm.
In 2001, the Pentagon signed up to buy more than 2,000 of the jets with the intent to replace aircraft used by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Since then, the F-35 program has made national headlines for being years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.
An investigation by the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office in 2012 found 719 issues with the program, which the report said, “…could adversely affect aircraft performance, reliability, maintainability and program cost.”
However, the manufacturer of the jets, Lockheed Martin, later argued that they had since rectified those issues.
“While the program has had some problems, I think we’ve really come around and answered the call,” Landrum said.
Back on track, the program means dollar signs for local communities outside the base, according to Mike Bouwhuis, a Layton city councilman, who advocated on the program’s behalf.
“So much of the economy of Layton evolves around Hill Air Force Base,” Bouwhuis said. “There are roughly 25,000 people that work up there every day, that bring paychecks out of the base and spend them in Layton and surrounding cities.”
For many on base, with the promise of 500 more people coming aboard as pilots and maintenance crews, the planes help secure the future of many on the ground.
“It’s time to bring on the next weapons system. I don’t know what Hill would look like if we weren’t able to get the F-35,” Radliff said.
According HAFB officials, the planes will not be arriving all at once. The first is expected to touch down in the fall of 2015, and the rest will be phased in over a 3 ½ year period. To accommodate them, the base will undergo a renovation project costing up to $88 million. The construction is expected to begin in January.
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