Luke Air Force Base will receive three new squadrons of F-35s for training. (Source: KSWT-TV)
PHOENIX (CBS5/AP) -
The Air Force will assign three additional squadrons of the new F-35 fighter at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale.
Gov. Jan Brewer helped make the official announcement Thursday afternoon with the 56th Fighter Wing at the base.
The decision helps ensure the future of the base 15 miles west of Phoenix as the current fleet of F-16s is retired. It brings six squadrons and 144 aircraft to be assigned at Luke for pilot training.
Coincidentally, the announcement comes a day after an F-16 crashed near the base. Both pilots ejected safely. Luke is the world's largest training base for F-16s.
Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake announced the Air Force decision Thursday morning.
In a statement, Gov. Brewer said:
"I am thrilled the U.S. Air Force has assigned three additional F-35A squadrons to Luke Air Force Base.
"Just shy of one year ago, the U.S. Department of Defense officially selected Luke as the preferred location for the Air Force's new F-35 training center. Upon this designation, the base was scheduled to receive three initial squadrons, totaling 72 next-generation aircraft. With today's announcement, Luke AFB will soon be home to 144 F-35A aircraft - more than any other Air Force Base to date.
"Luke AFB has a longstanding, well-earned reputation of training and graduating world-class fighter pilots. Its quality workforce, first-rate Barry M. Goldwater Range and unparalleled natural and geographic advantages have positioned Luke as a base worthy of these squadrons. Further, with more than 7,000 employees, the base alone generates more than $2 billion annually in statewide economic impact - a figure expected to grow with its receipt of the additional aircraft.
"I applaud the Department of Defense for recognizing the key role Luke AFB plays in our nation's security and defense. Its decision ensures Luke will remain the nation's premier site for critical Air Force missions for decades to come."
Luke serves as the Air Force's primary pilot training base for the F-16 fighter. Glendale city officials worried it would be left without a mission before a decision last year designated it as a pilot training base set to receive 72 new F-35s.
The F-35A, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is intended to be the Air Force's premier strike aircraft through the first half of the 21st Century. It is a multirole fighter that is expected to eventually phase out the service's F-16s and A-10s.
Aircraft are expected to begin arriving at Luke in spring 2014, although exact timing will depend on production schedules. Construction on base to prepare for the aircraft is currently underway, with about $10 million of $57 million in projects already completed.
Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.