The first two F-35 fighter jets to be based at Eielson Air Force Base arrived Tuesday afternoon. Over the next year-and-a-half, they’ll be joined by 52 more of the next-generation warplanes and their pilots and crews that’ll all be ready to quickly respond to trouble spots around the Pacific Ocean and Asia.
The two F-35As touched down around 3:45 p.m., to cheers and applause from small crowds that had gathered on the flightline – including Col. Ben Bishop, who commands Eielson’s 354th Fighter Wing.
“It is a historic day for the 354th Fighter Wing and for the Fairbanks North Star Borough community, as a whole,” Bishop told KTVF News.
He said a couple of F-16s from Eielson met the newer fighters en route, and “they escorted and formally welcomed our F-35s to the skies of Alaska.”
Bishop said in a webcast interview that the new fighters’ arrival marks “an historic occasion” signifying the transformation of Eielson’s mission from one that mainly focuses on training to one in which the two F-35 squadrons will stand ready to respond to real-world threats anywhere within the Indo-Pacific Region, which includes the Pacific and Indian oceans and much of Asia.
“And with these F-35s,” he said, “we’re going to be charged to project air power in support of worldwide operations and to support a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan says the F-35s, along with other so-called fifth-generation fighters stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, will combine to make Alaska a key hub of U.S. air power.
“With these F-35s coming, and the F-22s that we have down at JBER, (Alaska) is going to have over a hundred fifth-generation fighters,” Sullivan said. “No place on planet Earth will have that kind of fifth-gen fighter power than our state.”
That won’t go unnoticed by our enemies, says Lt. Gen. David Krumm. He’s the new head of the North American Aerospace Command’s Alaska region, and commander of both the Hawaii-based Pacific Air Forces and the JBER-based Alaskan Command.
“I will tell you that we will make our adversaries tremble, with what these airplanes can do,” Krumm said in a pre-recorded interview.
But first, the remaining 52 F-35s, along with some 1,300 pilots and other active-duty personnel to maintain the planes, must get settled in at Eielson. The two squadrons are expected to draw another 3,300 people to the area, which includes family members of the new personnel, along with additional federal employees and contractors.
The two F-35 squadrons will comprise a recently reactivated unit, the 356th Fighter Squadron, that will be part of the 354th Fighter Wing.