Despite Trump tweet, Alaska leaders ‘confident’ F-35s will come to Eielson
Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly says he’s confident the F-35 program will take off in Alaska, despite recent criticism from the future president.
President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter Monday to sound off about the cost of the fighter planes. He tweeted, “The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.” His statement had some concerned there would be cuts to the two squadrons of F-35s planned for Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks.
The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2016
Alaska’s congressional delegation is confident that won’t happen, which is why Matherly said he’s confident.
“President-elect Trump really isn’t a military guy and sometimes he tweets kind of soon, his thoughts, and we all know that,” Matherly said. “But I’ve also read the comments from Senators Sullivan and Murkowski and Congressman Young that they’re not concerned.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan’s office said millions of dollars are on their way to bring the fighter jets to Alaska. Alaska contractor Watterson Construction will break ground on a $37 million flight simulator building in the spring. Congress appropriated another $295 million for additional facilities at Eielson. So far, however, the money to buy the actual planes has not been appropriated. They cost about $100 million each.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski issued a statement after Trump’s tweet. She said, “I have had numerous conversations with senior military leaders, both before and after the election, about the critical need for a fifth generation fighter like the F-35. And in every one of those conversations the experts tell me that killing this program is not an option. The U.S. and our allies need the F-35 to maintain air dominance – especially in the Pacific – where our adversaries are improving their own capabilities as well as standing up air defenses calculated to deny the US access to hostile airspace.”
Trump’s criticism of the F-35 program is not unfounded. Military experts say the program is years overdue and billions over budget. However, the squadrons planned for Eielson will bring 2,300 jobs and $450 million to the Interior. Matherly said Trump needs to think about the consequences before he makes a decision.
“I know he’s trying to save taxpayer money and I applaud him for that, but let’s try to think about the impact on the community if you start talking about cutting back on the F-35s in general,” Matherly said. “We really can’t go back on the plan we already did.”
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