GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Department of Defense has chosen Luke Air Force Base in Glendale for the new pilot training center for the F-35 fighter jets, city officials announced Wednesday.
The 71-year-old base west of Phoenix was competing with bases in Tucson, New Mexico and Idaho for the F-35 mission.
Glendale officials said the Air Force will station 72 F-35s at Luke for the training of both U.S. and foreign pilots.
“This is a great day for Luke,” said Brig. Gen. JD Harris, 56th Fighter Wing commander at Luke. “Our selection for F-35 training ensures the long-term viability of our mission of training the world’s greatest fighter pilots, which we’ve been doing at Luke for seven decades.”
Air Force officials said in a statement that Luke was chosen because of facility and ramp capacity, range access, weather, as well as capacity for future growth.
The Air Force spent much of the past two years studying the F-35’s potential impact on the surrounding communities, from noise to pollution.
Arizona leaders had lobbied for the F-35s to ensure Luke’s economic vitality with a strong mission as the F-16s used for training have been drawn down.
“This is a proud day for Arizona,” said Gov. Jan Brewer, adding that the state “will continue to play a leading role in our nation’s security and defense” along with assuring the long-term viability of Luke.
Brewer said the base generates more than $2 billion in statewide economic impact annually.
U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, both R-Ariz., said in a joint statement that they welcomed “the Secretary of the Air Force’s commitment that, in addition to the three F-35 training squadrons, the Air Force will maintain both U.S. and foreign F-16 pilot training at Luke AFB through 2023.”
Pentagon officials say the F-35 is the most advanced aircraft being added to the military arsenal.
Luke has long been the training ground for F-16 pilots. The F-35 is intended to eventually replace the aging F-16.
Glendale officials said Luke could receive up to $125 million in federal funds for construction-related projects and the F-35s could arrive as early as fall 2013.
The mission also would bring an estimated 1,000 direct and indirect permanent jobs and $17 million annually in local, state and federal tax revenues.