Last week's announcement that included Gowen Field among a very small list of bases being considered for the F-35 next-generation fighter was welcome news for Idaho. It confirmed what our Congressional leaders have repeatedly stated -- that Idaho is the perfect place to station these jets.
In addition to being home to one of the nation's top military training ranges, southern Idaho lacks a number of issues that continue to affect some installations also under consideration. Among those concerns is encroachment -- the urban sprawl that continues to encircle these bases and keeps them from growing.
Urban sprawl then leads to people wanting to complain about the jet noise. I heard that one just last year when jets from Mountain Home Air Force Base temporarily moved to Gowen Field during runway repairs here.
While many people in the Treasure Valley supported these jets and the subsequent "noise of freedom," others were deeply disturbed by how much sound fighter jets generate. Obviously, these people never lived close to a military base where this is a daily occurrence.
It remains to be seen whether these critics will remain outspoken opponents of the Air Force's most-advanced combat fighter as the decision-making process continues over the next couple of years.
In the matter of fairness, I need to mention that the F-35 would bring with it additional noise, especially if Gowen Field gains more than one of these squadrons. It's simple math -- more jets equal more noise. It's the price people pay for hosting its military neighbors.
Originally, some people feared that the F-35 would crank out more noise than the F-15s stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base. However, those concerns were not as significant as originally feared.
Information released by Lockheed Martin (which is building the jet) indicate the jet makes roughly the same amount of noise as jets already in the U.S. inventory. Those tests indicate that the F-35 is slightly louder than the F-15 by just a handful of decibels. At the same time, it's quieter than Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18s that visit Mountain Home on a regular basis.
Understandably, the announcement involving Gowen Field was met with plenty of support from our state and federal representatives. After all, bringing on a new mission represents a significant economic boost in terms of needed construction of new hangars and support facilities as well as a possible boost in the number of military personnel needed to support these jets.
But as I read all the comments of support from our Congressional leaders and our governor, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed that none of them made the connection between Gowen Field and Mountain Home Air Force Base. It would've been nice if one of them had made some effort to emphasize that both bases often work together to ensure their pilots in the air and support teams on the ground remain at the peak of combat readiness.
But just because Gowen Field is on the short list, it's way too premature for anyone to start counting their chickens, so to speak. As we saw when Mountain Home was on a similar list just a few years ago, it's going to take years to narrow down which two Guard bases will host this new mission.
Before anyone in the military hierarchy can make a decision, each base needs to complete an environmental impact statement dealing with the Joint Strike Fighter. Hundreds of pages thicker than the Boise phone book, this document looks at everything from increased noise and pollution these jets would generate to the influx of people and resources this program would bring to bases that gain these fighters.
If our state representatives really wanted to move Idaho up higher on the selection list, one thing they should seriously consider is whether it would be better to move the Idaho Air National Guard to Mountain Home Air Force Base versus leaving them at the Boise International Airport. After all, the Guard's jets have to constantly compete with civilian airliners every time they need to launch and land.
That's not a problem at the Air Force base here, which doesn't need to made that type of concession.
And that's just the beginning.
The base has more than enough parking space to easily accommodate up to three more fighter squadrons. That comes in handy when the base holds its Gunfighter Flag exercises, which bring together units from various U.S. and foreign military units whose aircraft easily fit on the flightline with plenty of room to spare.
In addition, the runway at the base here is long enough that at one point it served as an emergency landing site for the space shuttle. That's more than enough space for the F-35, which doesn't need nearly that much room to launch and land.
Here's something else I've alluded to in the past: This nation continues to face the threat of global terrorism, which has forced the leaders of this country to rethink how it keeps its borders secure and its people safe. Because of the F-35's growing importance to protect this country and its allies against "near peer" adversaries like Russia and China, wouldn't it make much more sense to station these jets where you have a significant security presence already in place?
Mountain Home has a distinct advantage over most military installations. Its semi-remote location means little to no impact to those living in the city of Mountain Home. The base has no encroachment issues, and its training missions normally fly south toward the Mountain Home Range Complex.
The training range itself is regularly identified by Air Force officials as a real treasure. Home to an assortment of portable sensors and equipment capable of replicating enemy air defense systems around the world, it's the closest our aircrews can get to actual combat without actually getting shot down.
Compared to similar training ranges in the United States, the one here also allows aircrews to get to the "fight" significantly faster -- roughly five minutes in fact.
At the same time, the installation has overhauled many of its operations and maintenance facilities in recent years and finished construction on a number of others. Together, these capabilities and resources keep the installation on the leading edge of providing the most realistic level of combat training possible.
While Mountain Home Air Force Base wasn't initially included in the very short list of bases that are now serving as the F-35's initial home, we are definitely among the next in line. Out of all the Air Force bases and Air National Guard installations scattered across this nation, we were one of six under serious consideration when the first list came out.
The F-35 Lightning II represents the finest multi-role fighter in the Air Force inventory. Complimenting the service's current fleet of F-22 Raptors, the joint strike fighter will allow the United States to continue to dominate the skies around the world against future adversaries.
The F-35 represents the future of U.S. airpower and the very best this nation has to offer. It means we can go toe to toe with even the most formidable foe at a moment's notice and win 100-0.
So let's do everything we can to welcome the F-35s to Idaho. At the same time, let's use this opportunity to showcase Mountain Home's importance to the Air Force's decision makers. It never hurts to drop that hint now and again.
-- Brian S. Orban