By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson announced that the Alabama Air National Guard’s 187th Fighter Wing has been chosen as the home for the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Jet.
“I am thrilled and very pleased that the 187th Fighter Wing has been chosen as the home for the new F-35 fighter jet,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “This announcement is huge for the River Region, it is huge for Alabama and is certainly a welcome gift for us as we approach Christmas. The decision to send the F-35 to Montgomery is a testament to the quality of our people and our workforce, and further cements Alabama’s reputation as the leading aerospace state in the nation.”
The F-35 is the military’s newest aircraft and is slated to eventually replace many of the aircrafts currently in use with the U.S. armed forces. The 187th Fighter Wing of the Alabama Air National Guard currently includes a squadron of F-16 fighting falcon fighters, a combat communications group, an RC-26 reconnaissance aircraft squadron and an eagle vision unit. The 187th was one of five Air National Guard units on the short list to receive the F-35.
“The Alabama Air National Guard is dedicated to excellence in protecting both our state and nation,” Alabama Adjutant General Sheryl Gordon commented. “We look forward to adding the F-35 to our slate of tools available to enable us to carry out our mission.”
“Lots of people were involved in this effort and are to be commended for landing the F-35 in Alabama. I appreciate the work of our entire congressional delegation, especially Senator Shelby, Senator Strange, and Representative Roby. I am also thankful for the hard work and dedication of our state and local partners including General Gordon, Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, Montgomery County Commission Chairman Elton Dean and the Chamber of Commerce,” Gov. Ivey concluded.
Once production is concluded, the 187th Fighter Wing will receive the new F-35 as a replacement for the aging F-16s.
“The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is coming to Alabama! Earlier today Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson called to inform me that the Montgomery-based 187th Fighter Wing has been selected for the coveted F-35 mission,” Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said in her own statement.
“For the last two and a half years, I’ve been working with a partnership consisting of unit commanders, community and state leaders, local business leaders, and Alabama’s congressional delegation to bring the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly Field,” Rep. Roby said. “The F-35 is the military’s most cutting-edge war machine that will eventually replace many Cold War-era fighters like the F-16 currently flown by the 187th. Landing this mission is a tremendous boost for the River Region community and the entire state, both economically and from a military standpoint. It could result in as many as 1,000 jobs and as much as $3 billion in investment – and that’s just the beginning.”
“It is truly a historic day for Alabama and the River Region,” Roby said. “I could not be prouder of the men and women of the 187th for how they demonstrated their capability to carry out this special mission. I want to thank Brig. Gen. Randy Efferson, Col. William Sparrow, Mayor Todd Strange, Governor Kay Ivey, my colleagues in the Alabama congressional delegation, and the F-35 Task Force for their incredible teamwork in showing the Air Force all our area has to offer. There’s no question that our community’s firm support for our military installations and units made a big impression on decision makers.”
“As the legacy unit for the Tuskegee Airmen ‘Red Tails,’ the 187th Fighter Wing has an incredibly proud history,” Roby conculuded. “With today’s announcement, we know this unique unit has a very bright future with the F-35. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating this great news for our area and sharing it with your family and friends.”
“This announcement by the Air Force is excellent news for our state and a true testament to Alabama’s work in the defense sector. The strong support of the community, along with the proximity of Dannelly Field to several other major military bases, saving both time and money, led Air Force Secretary Wilson to choose Montgomery for the new F-35A fighter jet program. I am extremely proud of the operational strength of the 187th Fighter Wing, and I look forward to seeing the success of this new undertaking,” U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said in his own statement.
Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said, “The fact that Alabama successfully landed the F-35 jet program offers strong evidence that we can accomplish great things when the Legislature, the congressional delegation, Gov. Ivey, and her executive branch agencies work together toward a common goal.”
“We often note that corporate leaders across the nation have recognized that our state is a great place to do business, but our long-standing working relationships with the military at Alabama bases like Redstone Arsenal, Maxwell, Gunter, Fort Rucker and Anniston have paid us dividends many times over, as well,” McCutcheon said.
The Air Force has been working to identify site locations for Operations 5 and 6 for the F-35A fighter jet program. The Air Force currently trains 90 percent of their officers at Maxwell Air Force Base, also in the Montgomery area. Truax Field at Dane County Regional Airport in Wisconsin was also announced as a new site for the F-35A fighter jet program.
The F-35A is a fifth-generation fighter jet that combines advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment. Three variants of the F-35 will replace legacy fighters for the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps and 10 other countries around the world. According to the Air Force, the F-35A will replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt II’s.
The decision to replace the A-10, a specially designed attack aircraft drawing from lessons gained in the Vietnam War, with a stealth fighter remains highly controversial in defense circles. Both the F-16 and the A-10 are cheaper and easier to maintain than the F-35.
Colonel William Sparrow recently assumed command of the 187th Fighter Wing from Colonel Randy Efferson in a change of command ceremony at the Montgomery Regional Air National Guard Base.