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Plan for basing F-35B Joint Strike Fighters at Yuma, Miramar out for public review

By Gunnery Sgt. Bill Lisbon | | May 20, 2010

The latest draft of various plans to base the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter on the West Coast was released for the public May 21, allowing the Yuma and Miramar, Calif., communities one more chance to voice concerns on the Corps’ future aircraft.

The comprehensive survey on the jet’s environmental impacts outlines six possible plans for the West Coast basing of the aircraft replacing the Corps’ current fleet of combat jets, including Yuma’s AV-8B Harriers and Miramar's F/A-18 Hornets.

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 draft environmental impact statement can be downloaded at http://www.usmcjsfwest.com. Additionally, the availability of the draft was announced in the Federal Register on May 21, said Lt. Col. Geoff Olander, officer in charge of the Joint Strike Fighter site activation here.

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.

On June 15, an open house is scheduled at the Scripps-Miramar Ranch Library in San Diego from 5-8 p.m.

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 final decision, which is expected in December.

A scoping meetings were held in February 2009 to gather questions and comments from the community on the proposed basing options. That input 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 in Yuma once the Secretary of the Navy decides on the final basing plans.

On April 2, the Corps activated a new squadron to train future JSF pilots and maintainers beginning this fall. Marine Fighter/Attack Training Squadron 501 stood up as part of the Joint Integrated Training Center located at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, according to Headquarters Marine Corps.

On top of Yuma’s 10 planes, the training squadron would operate 15 aircraft, while another four F-35Bs would be based with an operational test and evaluation detachment at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

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 Olander.

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