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Updated Jun 27, 2013 - 4:58 pm

Luke AFB west of Phoenix to get 72 more F-35s

PHOENIX — The Air Force said Thursday it will assign three additional F-35
squadrons to Luke Air Force Base, bolstering the future of the facility 15 miles
west of Phoenix as the military’s current fleet of F-16s is retired.

The announcement means six squadrons will be assigned to the base for pilot
training with 144 aircraft.

Brigadeer General Michael Rothstein said the decision made him feel a sense of pride for the base.

“We will be the premier training base for F-35s,” he said.

Rothstein that Luke was chosen in part because of its facilities. Several nations are partnering with the U.S. on the F-35, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey.

Rothstein said all of those nations except the U.K. will have F-35 fighter pilots training at Luke.

Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake hailed the decision, calling it great
news for the state and cities west of Phoenix. Gov. Jan Brewer was set to
discuss the decision at the base later in the day.

“It also means that Luke Air Force Base will continue to serve as the premier
pilot training facility in the world,” McCain said in a statement that also
cited its proximity to the Barry M. Goldwater military training range and the
support of state and nearby residents for the success of the base.

The new F-35s are set to begin arriving at the base in 2014.

Luke serves as the world’s largest training base for the aging F-16 jet and has
more than 130 of the aircraft. An F-16 crashed west of the base on Wednesday
after its two pilots parachuted to safety. The cause of the crash hasn’t been

McCain called it a “reminder of the important and dangerous work our airmen do
every day at Luke and we are all deeply thankful that no one was hurt.”

Officials in Glendale, which includes the base, worried that Luke would be left
without a mission before it was designated last year as an F-35 training base.
The Air Force intends to keep training F-16 pilots at Luke until at least 2023.

The city has said the base generates about $2 billion in yearly revenue

The F-35 program has been troubled by development snags, production delays and
soaring costs. McCain said Thursday he remained cautiously optimistic about the
health of the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program.

Three versions of the plane are set to be built for the Air Force, Marines and
Navy, at up to $169 million each. The Pentagon wants to buy more than 2,400 of
the stealthy, single-engine fighters.

The jets are noisier than F-16s, leading to worries in communities where the
military is considering basing the aircraft. The same concerns dogged the jet
when the Air Force was considering basing it at Luke, but it ultimately decided
to move forward because of the good flying weather and proximity to the training

“I am glad to see the Air Force taking advantage of the unique attributes our
state has to offer, making good use of the climate and environment to better
enhance the defense of the nation,” Flake said in a statement.

KTAR’s Bob McClay contributed to this report.


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