- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Alaska’s Eielson Air Force Base will host two new squadrons of F-35 fighter jets, the Air Force announced Monday.

The base 26 miles south of Fairbanks will be home to 54 of the aircraft and hundreds of additional military personnel, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (https://bit.ly/1S4yBo8 ). The jets are scheduled to begin arriving in 2020.

“Alaska combines a strategically important location with a world-class training environment,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a news release.

The massive Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex and other areas in Alaska ensure realistic combat training, she said. Eielson has been the Air Force’s preferred location to house the first combat-ready F-35s in the Pacific region since 2014.

The Defense Department expects the move to add 2,765 airmen, civilians, military family members and contractors to interior Alaska and increase enrollment at borough public schools by 2.8 percent.

The injection of military spending has been highly anticipated because the state’s oil-dependent economy has slowed with falling oil prices.

The new aircraft could help ensure Eielson’s future. The Defense Department considered closing Eielson in 2005 and weighed stripping the base of its only active-duty aircraft in 2012. That squadron of F-16 fighters portrays enemy aircraft during training exercises.

With the new planes, the Defense Department anticipates 46 construction, demolition or renovation projects, with construction injecting $453 million into the economy.

The F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter is designed to replace several types of older aircraft. The Defense Department plans to purchase more than 2,400 of the aircraft over several decades from Lockheed Martin.

Hill Air Force Base in Utah also has operational F-35 squadrons, with its first plane delivered last fall.

Luke Air Force Base in Arizona also has F-35s for training, and plans are in place for Air National Guard-assigned F-35s at Burlington International Airport in Vermont.

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

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