Eielson F-35s drive rise in Alaska military construction
As Anchorage's economy is set to emerge from the state's recent recession this year, Fairbanks is receiving a major boost from the expansion of Eielson Air Force Base.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spending, which will support basing dozens of new F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters at Eielson, comes as the state faces a $1.6 billion deficit.
Corps spokesman Randall Lee Bowker says the work promises to make 2019 "a historic year" for its Alaska District.
"At Eielson Air Force Base, with the bed-downs of two F-35 squadrons – 48 aircraft – we are constructing all the facilities to support them," Bowker said. "That will span fiscal years 2016 to 2020, but this is our peak year."
Overall Corps of Engineers spending in Alaska will total about $640 million in fiscal year 2019, a $90 million increase from the previous fiscal year.
Readying Eielson for the first F-35s to arrive in 2020 will cost a total of $550 million. Along with the aircraft, 3,500 airmen and contractors plus their families are planned to join the base, further boosting the area and state's economy.
"I'm excited to see basically the future of (the) F-35's operations here in Alaska," said Air Force Lt. Col. Tucker Hamilton. "We are testing the F-35 and I'll tell you right now: the F-35 is extremely capable. America and our world needs this airframe."
The F-35 marks a massive reversal for Eielson, which was considered a candidate for closure in 2005. The construction has had significant economic ramifications beyond the Interior's economy.
"This is not a program size that any one region of the state could handle on its own," Bowker said. "We have contractors from all the way down in the Kenai Peninsula, we have prime contractors from the Anchorage area, subcontractors from across the state, both union and non-union."
The Department of Defense has already predicted that the arriving Eielson families will expand enrollment at Fairbanks North Star Borough public schools by nearly 3 percent.
Other Alaska work the Corps will perform this year, Bowker said, includes adding interceptor missiles to the ballistic-missile defense installation at Fort Greely, as well as fitting a new long-distance radar at Clear Air Force Station.
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