The Air Force is moving to give Luke Air Force Base a new lease in life, choosing the installation in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale as its preferred training base for the new F-35 fighter, officials said Thursday.
U.S. Sen. John McCain and Gov. Jan Brewer hailed the news but included a measure of caution that the decision isn't yet cast in stone. They and an Air Force official said a final basing decision won't be made until next year.
"The preferred alternatives with other reasonable alternatives will continue to be evaluated in the Environmental Impact Analysis Process," Kathleen Ferguson, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, said in a news release.
According to McCain, three squadrons with dozens of aircraft would be based at Luke if the Air Force finalizes its decision.
McCain said the Air Force decided to delay a decision on basing more F-35s with the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport in Tucson. That group also trains pilots.
The decision is a huge win for Luke, the world's largest F-16 fighter base and the jet's main training site. With the F-16s set to be phased out, the base would have no mission if it wasn't chosen for the new fighter.
Luke contributes thousands of jobs and more than $1 billion annually to the local economy.
The Air Force on Thursday also announced it tentatively chose Hill Air Force Base in Utah and Burlington Air Guard Station in Vermont for operational missions of the single-engine F-35. The Air Force announced Wednesday that 59 F-35 jets would be stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
Sites in Idaho, New Mexico, Florida and South Carolina were passed over.
Lockheed Martin Corp. has built just a few of roughly 2,400 F-35s that the United States has said it wants to buy, but the plane's cost already has more than doubled to some $113 million apiece.