F-35A fighter jet program coming to Montgomery

Updated: Dec. 21, 2017 at 3:57 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - After a nearly two-year process, the City of Montgomery has landed a huge economic prize. Thursday, Heather Wilson, Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, called Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to confirm the state's capital city has been chosen as the home for the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Jet.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, was first to officially confirm the news publicly that Dannelly Field, home of the 187th Fighter Wing – the Red Tails – of the Alabama Air National Guard would be the home to the new program.

The jets should begin arriving sometime in 2023 as the Air Force retires its F-16 fighter jets.

The economic impact of the program will be sizable due to the more than $3 billion investment. According to the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, the F-35 will help preserve over 1,400 existing jobs and an economic impact that's topped more than $80 million annually over the last five years. That's expected to climb to more than $100 million after the F-35 arrives. In addition to saving those jobs, more than 1,000 additional highly-skilled jobs are expected to be added.

"This announcement by the Air Force is excellent news for our state and a true testament to Alabama's work in the defense sector," Shelby said. "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."

Gov. Kay Ivey held a news conference at the 187th Fighter Wing at the Alabama Air National Guard in Montgomery to make the official announcement. She was joined by multiple local and state officials, including Adjutant General of the Alabama National Guard Major General Sheryl Gordon, Alabama Air National Guard Chief of Staff Brigadier General Randy Efferson, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, and Montgomery County Commission Chairman Elton Dean.

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.

Montgomery was in the running against several bases including Gowen Field AGS - Boise, Idaho, Jacksonville AGS Florida and Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Detroit. In addition to Montgomery, 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 5th 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, which have been the primary fighter aircraft for more than 20 years.

The 187th Fighter Wing, a part of the Alabama Air National Guard, is stationed at Montgomery Air National Guard Base and currently includes a squadron of F-16 fighter jets, a combat communications group, an RC-26 reconnaissance aircraft squadron, and an eagle vision unit. 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.


Gov. Kay Ivey

“I am thrilled and very pleased that the 187th Fighter Wing has been chosen as the home for the new F-35 fighter jet,” Governor 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 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.”

Rep. Martha Roby (R-Dist. 2)

“Today is a historic day for Alabama and the River Region.  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, 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. With today’s announcement, we know this unique unit has a very bright future with the F-35.” 

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Dist. 1)

"Great news for Alabama! This is big not just for Montgomery, but our entire state."

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Dist. 7) 

“What amazing news! I am thrilled that our district’s 187th Air National Guard Fighter Wing Unit will become the first home in the Southeast to F-35 fighter jets,” said Rep. Sewell. “I am so proud of the unit commanders, federal, local and state leaders, and all those in Montgomery and the River Region community for working together to win the F-35 competition. The F-35 builds on the legacy of military excellence exhibited by the 187th Fighter Wing, which is home to the famed ‘Red Tails.’ Today’s decision will be a major economic boost for Alabama’s economy. This means new investments, new jobs, and a better future for our state, the City of Montgomery, and the River Region.”

Senator-elect Doug Jones (D-AL)

"This is a big economic win for the people of Montgomery and surrounding communities, continues Alabama’s famed aviation and aerospace history, and shows what can be accomplished when officials work together for what is best for the people of Alabama." 

Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange

“We congratulate the men and women of the 187th Fighter Wing whose tenacity, vigilance and expertise have been rewarded with this huge vote of confidence from our national defense leadership. The reason Montgomery is known as the best hometown in the Air Force stems from the exceptional and enduring relationship with Air Force leaders and our many military partners."  

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon 

“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.”

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