Base deserves support during F-35's next phase

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

In just a few weeks, Mountain Home will once again host a team of Air Force officials looking at possibly bringing a new fighter program to this state. The city is one of three southern Idaho communities these officials will visit over a three-day period regarding the F-35 joint strike fighter.

Their visit coincides with the release last week of a draft environmental impact statement dealing with the next-generation fighter. Hundreds of pages thicker than the Boise phone book, this two-volume document looked at everything from increased noise and pollution these jets would add to the influx of people and resources this program would bring to bases that gain these fighters.

While Mountain Home Air Force Base wasn't initially included in the very short list of bases that would serve 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.

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.

And that's just the beginning. The base has more than enough parking space to easily accommodate up to three more fighter squadrons. That point was made perfectly clear just a few weeks ago when the base hosted a multi-service training exercise involving the German air force as well as the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. In addition, the runway is long enough that at one point it served as an emergency landing site for the space shuttle -- more than enough space for the F-35 mission.

At the same time, the installation continues to overhaul many of its operations and maintenance facilities with new ones currently under construction. Together, these capabilities and resources keep the installation on the leading edge of providing the most realistic level of combat training possible.

In the matter of fairness, we do need to mention that the F-35 would bring with it additional noise, especially if we gain more than one of these squadrons. It's simple math -- more jets equal more noise. It's the price we pay for hosting our neighbors "down the street."

Originally, some people feared that the F-35 would crank out more noise than the current fleet of F-15s stationed here. However, it appears those concerns are 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 -- by just a handful of decibels -- than the F-15. At the same time, it's quieter than Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18s that visit Mountain Home on a regular basis.

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.

Starting May 8, we have the opportunity to once again showcase to senior Air Force officials our ongoing commitment to the Gunfighters of Mountain Home Air Force Base. It's a reputation known across the United States and around the world -- a partnership like no other.

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. We can win today or 10 years from now. Having another opportunity to showcase the base's importance to the Air Force's decision markers is a welcome bonus.

-- Brian S. Orban