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Major changes for Yuma outlined in Marine Corps' Joint Strike Fighter basing plan

By Gunnery Sgt. Bill Lisbon | | June 11, 2010

If the preferred plan for basing the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter at the air station is approved, major changes are in store for Yuma over the next six years.

According to the plan and its anticipated effects, Yuma should expect a 39 percent increase in personnel, a 15 percent increase in airfield operations and a 17 percent increase in airspace and range use.

Additionally, the new infrastructure required for the Marine Corps' future combat jets to come to Yuma would cost nearly $1 billion.

 Released for public review and comment May 21, the comprehensive survey on the jet's environmental impacts outlines five possible plans for the West Coast basing of the aircraft replacing the Corps' current fleet of combat jets, including all of Yuma's AV-8B Harriers.

The preferred plan would place five operational F-35B squadrons and one operational, test and evaluation squadron here, with another six operational squadrons at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, Calif.

The other alternatives split the 12 West Coast squadrons differently, with as few as two and as many as 10 squadrons based in Yuma. Regardless the plan picked, all Harriers here would be removed by 2016, according to the statement.

The draft environmental impact statement can be downloaded at http://www.usmcjsfwest.com.

On June 17, the public is invited to an open house at Gila Vista Junior High School in Yuma from 4-7 p.m., where they can discuss the basing options and impacts to the local community.

Public comments will be accepted until July 6, after which the final environmental impact statement will be prepared for the Secretary of the Navy's ultimate decision, which is expected in December.

Under the preferred option, 88 F-35Bs would replace the 56 Harriers stationed here. The transition of five of the six new squadrons would occur between 2012 and 2016.

With the new planes, an additional 425 military personnel and 38 civilians would be needed. More than 1,200 accompanying family members would be added to the local population. Plus, 66 service members from the United Kingdom, which is also buying JSFs, would be assigned to operate and maintain two of the operational training and evaluation squadron's planes.

The construction projects required for the JSF would primarily occur south of the current Harrier hangars. More than 260 acres would be affected with the preferred plan, with on-base construction totaling $706 million.

A short-term economic boost is expected during the peak construction phase in 2012 equating to nearly 3,000 jobs and $119.2 million in labor income.

As many as five hangars would be built, as well as necessary support infrastructure, such as wash racks, aprons and a simulator facility, and other upgrades to runways, roads, utilities and communications.

Most of the alternatives plan for an additional enlisted barracks to be built on the site of the current mess hall, while a new mess hall would be built nearby.

The air station also plans to build a new south gate, which would alleviate some traffic at the existing gates on Avenue 3E. Meanwhile, the City of Yuma has already begun work to expand Avenue 3E to four lanes north of 32nd Street, said Dave Nash, city spokesman.

On the Barry M. Goldwater Range east of the air station, a new auxiliary airfield would be built about 3 miles southeast of Auxiliary Airfield 2, which can't support the JSF on its landing surface during carrier landing training. The new $157 million airfield would contain simulated ship landing decks, a control tower and a 3,000-foot area where pilots would train to land on roads.

Use of Auxiliary Airfield 2 would decrease by 93 percent and be used mostly by helicopters.

Noise from the JSF would increase or be heard further away, according to the statement, but "remain consistent with city and county land use guidelines."

Two studies were used to judge the noise effects. At most, approximately 5,600 off-station homes with more than 16,000 residents live within areas affected by jet noise of 65 decibels or higher. However, the study states none of those areas will experience noise above 80 decibels, where the risk of potential hearing loss is possible under long-term exposure.

Input from the Yuma community was collected during a scoping meeting Feb. 4, 2009. That information helped Department of the Navy planners determine what needed to be addressed in the environmental impact statement.

Despite delays and budget overages within the JSF program, the Marine Corps is marching forward to prepare to reach an initial operating capability of 29 planes by December 2012, according to a statement released by Headquarters Marine Corps on March 18.

Ten of those planes would make up the first operational squadron, Marine Fighter/Attack Squadron 332, which could be based at the air station once the Secretary of the Navy decides on the final basing plans.

Derived from a common design, developed together and using the same sustainment infrastructure worldwide, three F-35 variants will replace at least 13 types of aircraft for 11 nations initially, according to Lockheed Martin.

The Air Force will receive the F-35A variant, which will provide conventional takeoff and landing capabilities. The Navy will receive the F-35C, designed for carrier launches and duty at sea.

However, the production and basing of Navy and Air Force planes is separate and doesn't affect the Marine Corps, said Lt. Col. Geoff Olander, officer in charge of the Joint Strike Fighter site activation here.

Compared to the Marine Corps' current tactical fixed-wing squadrons, the JSF can carry more ordnance with greater range than the F/A-18 Hornet, operate from austere environments like the AV-8B Harrier, and possess electronic warfare technology and capability like the EA-6B Prowler, according to Headquarters Marine Corps.

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