The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter might be coming to the Florida Air National Guard wing at Jacksonville International Airport, and local military officials say the wing's future could be nose-up or nose-down depending on that decision.
"The wing itself represents a $100 million economic impact to the city of Jacksonville," Major General Michael Calhoun told First Coast News on Friday. Calhoun said a lot of the jobs at the wing rely on the F-15 Eagle aircraft currently based there, and many of those jobs - as well as dollars - would leave the area if the F-15 is mothballed, as some anticipate.
"With conversations of the F-15 possibly being replaced, we need another technology that will complement or replace the one thousand full-time active air members that we have here in support," he contended, adding that the arrival of the F-35 would bring about 200 more jobs, in contrast to the void accompanying the loss of the F-15.
The F-35 is touted for its versatility, featuring a combined cutting-edge ability to engage in aerial combat as well as attack ground targets with bombs. But it's also been ballyhooed on both sides of the aisle in Congress for its cost; even President Trump has hinted at scrapping the plane for alternative strategies.
But Brigadier General Brian Simpler, who serves as assistant Adjutant General to Major General Calhoun at the wing, said that reality dictates a need for the expenditure, regardless of where the F-35 calls home.
"Obviously, a lot of concerns with the budget in general," Simpler acknowledged, "but I think, as you look at the aging aircraft that we have in the Air Force inventory right now, there's going to have to be new fighters to replace our current fighters."
The F-35 has also drawn a reputation of being a noise nuisance to people on the ground, possibly a concern to First Coast residents. Gene White, representing the F-35's manufacturer Lockheed Martin as the company's Air Force Customer Engagement representative, countered that notion, saying the plane's noise signature is at a lower register than others, but is not louder.
"[It's] comparable to F-16s, F-15s, F-18s, in terms of noise. It's got a little bit lower rumble to it, so it's a little bit deeper, but decibel-wise, it's the same."
So, maybe more of a baritone than an alto, but in any case, these folks say it's a far cry better than the economic silencing that would result locally if the F-15 goes wheels-up permanently, with nothing to replace it.
Jacksonville is vying with bases in Idaho, Wisconsin, Alabama, and Michigan. Two locales will be chosen, the decision likely more than a year away. The local wing leaders say their enthusiasm is tempered, but they like their chances.
"I am very optimistic that Jacksonville will be the next bid for the F-35," said Major General Calhoun.