Fort Smith selected for military pilot training center; economic impact estimated at $ 1 billion

Ebbing Air National Guard Base at Fort Smith was chosen by Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth to be the long-term pilot training center supporting the F-16 and F- fighter jets. 35 purchased by Singapore, Switzerland and other countries participating in the Foreign Military Sales Program (FMS).

In addition to Ebbing, home to the 188th Wing, the centre’s finalist sites were Hulman Field (Indiana), Buckley Air Force Base (Colorado), Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland (Texas) and Selfridge Air National Guard Base (Michigan) .

Officials announced the selection process on July 20, 2020. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the federal agency managing the FMS, notes that the program provides for “responsible arms sales to promote national security and foreign policy objectives by strengthening bilateral defense relations, by supporting the formation of coalitions. , and improve interoperability between US forces and the armies of friends and allies.

Air Force officials conducted virtual surveys at the five sites. As a result of the investigations, a rating scale, the results of the investigation and other factors were to be provided to the Secretary of the Air Force, with a decision initially expected in late 2020 or early 2021. The The initial schedule would also see the chosen air base receive the Singapore F -16 in 2023 and the F-35 in 2024.

The pilot training center could have a billion dollar economic impact on the Fort Smith metro, according to the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. The chamber reports that 345 U.S. servicemen are believed to be part of the center and around 180 and more members of the Singapore unit and around 300 dependents. Training and aircraft from Finland and Poland could also be part of the FMS site in the future.

“This is an absolute change for Fort Smith,” Tim Allen, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, said in a statement. “The selection process was extremely rigorous. The multi-month, meticulous, behind-the-scenes effort between the Congressional delegation, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office, the city and the House has positioned us perfectly to secure this project. Welcoming this new mission, these families and the talented military team who will settle here, will mean wave after wave of economic growth for the region for years to come.

“This decision reiterates what I have said from the start: Fort Smith is best placed to take on this critical defense mission. Our strategic location, coupled with the river valley airspace, strong infrastructure and a skilled workforce, will allow us to seamlessly support our valued allies and the next generation of air combat capabilities. . I am proud that the Air Force and Singapore have recognized this confluence of attributes. Fort Smith has a long history of community support from our defenders, and we look forward to welcoming this advanced fighter fleet to Arkansas, ”said US Representative Steve Womack, R-Rogers, who represents the district.

“This decision strengthens Arkansas’ role in the defense of our nation. I am proud that the US Air Force and the Republic of Singapore have recognized what we have always known: Fort Smith is the perfect location for this mission. This is a victory for the community and the state as a whole that was made possible in part by the dedicated citizens who tirelessly championed the opportunities that exist here, ”said US Senator John Boozman, R-Ark. , which is a Fort Smith. native.

It won’t be the first time that F-16s have left Ebbing. In 1988, the F-16A Fighting Falcon replaced the F-4C used by the 188th Fighter Wing at Ebbing. A last minute decision by the Base Realignment and Closure Committee in 2005 replaced the F-16 with the A-10. On April 14, 2007, the 188th received its first A-10. The vast cuts in US defense spending included the withdrawal of 20 188th A-10 Thunderbolt fighter jets by June 2014. The 188th’s new mission became an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) mission.

Former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told Talk Business & Politics in early April that the FMS decision would likely be based on objective military factors rather than political ones.

“In my opinion, politics cannot play any role in these decisions, because the minute you allow political considerations to enter into them, what otherwise would and should be a fair process based on military judgment, based on facilities , based on certain people questions ”, violates the criteria announced in advance to all those competing for selection, said Jacques.

Colonel Jeremiah Gentry, vice-commander of the 188th Wing, said in August 2020 that both the 188th and Fort Smith had historically received “strong community support” for jet missions, the airspace around the field being the largest Central America’s ramp space is twice as large as needed, and the region has 320 suitable weather days for the mission flight, better than the 240 required. Additionally, Gentry said, the other bases on the pilot training center list have active duty flight missions that the training center should compete with for airspace. In Fort Smith, the pilot training center “would be the main customer.”

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