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
Rep. Martha Roby (R-Dist. 2)
Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Dist. 1)
Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Dist. 7)
Senator-elect Doug Jones (D-AL)
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange
Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon