US military officials in Montgomery on F-35 site visit

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The U.S. military is on the ground in Montgomery this week, evaluating the 187th Fighter Wing of the Alabama National Guard as a contender for the coveted F-35 Lightning II fighter jet.

The impact of this visit, and landing the F-35, is significant for the City of Montgomery and the State of Alabama. The 187th Fighter Wing has a $100 million direct impact on the city. If it's chosen for the F-35 mission, it would add up to 400 additional positions to the current 1000 people employed by the 187th.

The future of the 187th is at stake since it currently flies the oldest F-16s in inventory. If chosen for the F-35, the 187th's mission could increase by 50 years.

When Montgomery was listed in the top five locations for the jet, the local government formed an F-35 task force and hired a consultant to put the region in the best position possible to land the new mission.

Leaders feel Montgomery has an edge in operations. However, the consultant identified two areas of weakness including force protection and tuition, both of which were solved by the time the evaluation team landed in Montgomery.

The state and local governments pulled together funds to build a new gate to secure the 187th and on Tuesday Gov. Kay Ivey signed 8 bills to bolster the military, including 100 percent tuition coverage.

"These bills that we just passed are crucial to continue to recruit the kinds of people the F-35 needs to fly it, work on it, and support it," said Paul Hankins, co-chairman of the task force.

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