While Vermont remains the Air Force’s preferred location to base 18-24 new F-35 fighter jets, South Carolina military sites at Sumter and in Eastover remain in contention, recent reports indicate.
Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter and the McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover are still under consideration to be the military’s bed-down site for the first squadron of the new stealth jets.
Other military installations under consideration by the Air Force include the Jacksonville Air Guard Station in Florida, Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, and Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
The Burlington Air Guard Station in Vermont has been the Air Force’s preferred site to locate the new fighters from the beginning, but the Air Force recently reviewed the Environmental Impact Statement supporting that initial determination and issued a revised statement this week.
“The latest stuff that I have read is absolutely nothing different than what has been talked about for the past year,” said retired Maj. Gen. William “Dutch” Holland, Sumter Base Defense Committee executive director on Friday. “The community up there is divided.”
Holland, South Carolina Military Task Force former executive coordinator, noted that while protests by some homeowners in Vermont had arisen that the F-35s would be too noisy, the larger community there supports basing the fighters at Burlington.
Published reports also have been widely circulated in the New England media that the Air Force’s initial environmental statement was fraught with misinformation.
The F-35s could replace the aging F-16 squadron of fighter jets currently at McEntire and help insulate the base and the 1,500 jobs it supports against new realignment and base closure decisions.
The Air Force has said it will decide this fall where to base the F-35s.
“We in South Carolina are more than prepared to take those airplanes and to be the bed-down area for those, if they don’t go to Vermont,” Holland said. “But we’re also ready to wait until our time is here.”