- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 28, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Eielson Air Force Base likely will be on a narrowed list of potential locations for two squadrons of new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said.

In a luncheon speech Tuesday, the Alaska Republican said the Air Force will reduce a list of five candidates to two or three locations by the end of June. Eielson should be in that group, she said, and is in a good position to be picked for the jets, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1pyaXnU) reported.

“You always hate to jinx anything before you have confirmation, but I do believe we’re in a strong position in the Interior for the F-35s,” Murkowski said at the 11th annual Ladies That Lunch Committee Spring Luncheon.

Both Eielson and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage are on the current list with three undisclosed overseas Pacific bases. Recent tensions in Russia and China have underscored the strategic importance of the Pacific, Murkowski said, and Alaska squadrons allow the U.S. to have a regional presence without being in world hot spot.

Hill Air Force Base in Utah was the first base to receive F-35s. The military plans to buy more than 2,000.

Military officials told Murkowski that the closure of the Flint Hills Resources refinery in North Pole will not influence the decision. The refinery had supplied jet fuel for Eielson aircraft.

Fairbanks officials have lobbied hard for F-35s to be based at Eielson. The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly in April allocated $250,000 to push for “mission growth” at area military bases.

The Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. estimates the F-35s would create 3,042 Department of Defense jobs at Eielson, adding $379 million in payroll. FEDC President Jim Dodson said it would be tough to make room for the squadrons at the Anchorage base.

Eielson provides extensive training grounds and a receptive community, according to supporters.

“I think we’ll make the next cut,” Dodson said. “It would be pretty hard to leave a U.S. base out.”

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com