For two years now, a partnership consisting of unit commanders, community and state leaders, local business leaders, and Alabama’s congressional delegation have been working together to bring the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly Field in Montgomery. The 187th is one of five Air National Guard units on the short list being considered, and the Air Force is expected to make its final decision in the coming weeks.
The F-35 is the military’s most cutting-edge war machine that will eventually replace many Cold War-era fighters like the F-16 currently flown by the 187th. Landing this mission would be a tremendous boost for the River Region community and the entire state, both economically and from a military standpoint.
As the Air Force nears a decision, I’ve been making a final push emphasizing to top Air Force officials five key advantages that I believe set Montgomery and the 187th Fighter Wing apart as the ideal candidate for this coveted mission.
First, there is cost and time efficiency. Dannelly Field offers the Air Force the least expensive option to base the mission at $19.2 million. Additionally, the 187th Fighter Wing can accept new aircraft on the fastest timeline because their facilities need very little work and pilots can utilize the F-35 simulators located just three hours away at Eglin Air Force Base.
Second, the 187th is in close proximity to other Air Force assets. After Air Force officials visited Montgomery in their review process, they described the 187th as “well suited” for the F-35 mission because of its proximity to other Air Force Strategic Command units. The site visit report states, “Available assets in the local flying area include: F-15C, F-16CG, A-10, F-22, ADAIR (T-38), F-35, KC-135, AC-130, CV-22, and U-28 in the local area. The ability of the F-35 to integrate with all these assets on a daily basis maximizes overall capability of the USAF.”
Third, the 187th does not have a Homeland Security alert mission. Unlike other units under consideration, the 187th Fighter Wing is not on call to scramble its aircraft in the event of a domestic Homeland Security alert. If the Air Force selected a unit with this type of alert mission for the F-35, a new unit would have to be trained, equipped, and prepared to take on the alert mission, which would result in an expensive force structure shift.
Fourth, the 187th Fighter Wing doesn’t have a “double move” potential. Other units under consideration fly A-10 and F-15 aircraft, which are set to remain active, so sending the F-35 to those units would require the Air Force to find a new home for their current aircraft. The 187th Fighter Wing flies the F-16 Falcon, which is scheduled to be retired, so our unit would not require the time and expense brought on by the redistribution of aircraft.
Last, but certainly not least, the 187th Fighter Wing has tremendous community and state support. The Montgomery community and our entire state are working together to support the potential F-35 mission by making efforts such as investing in the Montgomery Regional Airport and providing a tuition assistance program for Guardsmen. In fact, I want to thank all of our local leaders from Montgomery’s Mayor and City Council to the County Commission, the Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, and media who have all supported the effort. Our community and state support could not be stronger, and I truly believe it can make a difference in this decision.
To follow up on our discussions, I detailed all this information for the record in a letter to Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, who is the chief decision maker. As she prepares to make her decision, I want her to have all the correct information, especially as it concerns strengths that help make our case.
Whatever the outcome of the F-35 decision, I can confidently say that we gave it everything we had and left it all on the field. As your Representative in Congress, I will continue to support the critical military installations and programs in our state.
Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband Riley and their two children.