Laura Seitz, Deseret News
CLEARFIELD — The air above Davis County will soon be filled with the sounds of the world’s most advanced military aircraft.
Hill Air Force Base will soon become one of the first military installations in the nation to fly the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet.
The F-35 is a fifth-generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information and network-enabled operations. Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the jet will feature composite technology produced by ATK.
ATK manufactures several composite structures for the F-35 at the company’s facility in Clearfield, including upper and lower wing skins, straps, engines nacelles, covers and inlet ducts.
The company marked the completion of the 150th wing skin at a news conference Wednesday.
“The F-35 will help the United States maintain air superiority, and I am looking forward to seeing their eventual arrival at Hill Air Force Base,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, speaking to an audience of about 70 people.
Bishop said the official “record of decision” is scheduled to be signed Oct. 31, but preparations are already underway for the transition from the F-16 at HAFB to the new fighter jet that he said is needed to maintain the nation’s ability to protect itself from its terrorist enemies.
“We will have the first (release of new) F-35s,” Bishop said.
Looking ahead, Bishop said having Hill Air Force Base as one of the F-35 host sites will be a positive attribute as the Defense Department considers what installations to keep open when it considers future Base Realignment and Closures.
“Any BRAC round is a crapshoot, but it obviously makes us more significant,” he said. “We’re the ideal spot for (the F-35 since) it is where they repair the plane. It’s a perfect fit.”
Those sentiments were echoed by the senior member of Utah's congressional delegation, who was also in attendance.
“The F-35 will play a critical role in the defense of our nation, and the future operational squadrons and sustainment workloads at Hill Air Force Base will be of tremendous benefit to our country, state and local communities,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
The jet is produced by Lockheed Martin — a global security and aerospace company based in Bethesda, Md., with approximately 118,000 employees worldwide. The company is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services, and is also a major defense contractor.
“The F-35 program currently supports over $80 million in economic impact across Utah, including more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs,” said Bob DuLaney, Lockheed Martin's senior manager for customer engagement. “These numbers are anticipated to increase as the program reaches full-rate production.”
ATK will produce the wing skin, explained Joy de Lisser, vice president and general manager of ATK’s Aerospace Structures Division, which is the composite material that makes up the outside structure of the aircraft's wings.
The F-35 is considered the most advanced fighter jet ever produced and the most expensive, but critics argue it may be too costly and might not be the most effective way to combat our nation’s terrorist enemies. Bishop strongly challenged that assertion.
“Other countries, (including) Third World countries, are catching up to us in technology,” he said. “We could keep winning with F-16s, but we would lose planes and pilots.”
Bishop said the new F-35 technology is so far ahead of what the rest of the world is utilizing that “we will win and not lose pilots.”
As for the expense, he said the cost of the new jet is “about in line” comparatively with what was spent on previous military aircraft in previous years.
“This actually saves people’s lives. It’s the ideal (defense tool),” Bishop added.
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