Lawmakers back bid to draw F-35 jets to Jacksonville

Jacksonville among 5 finalists to host jets

Jacksonville is among five finalists to host the F-35 jet.
Jacksonville is among five finalists to host the F-35 jet.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida state senators expressed support this week for the Florida Air National Guard's effort to attract a squadron of military F-35 joint strike fighters to Jacksonville.

The Air Force announced in December that it selected Jacksonville’s Air National Guard unit from more than a dozen units the Air Force said it was considering in May. If ultimately chosen, the Jacksonville unit would begin to transition from the F-15 fighter jets that it is currently using to the new F-35A Joint Strike Fighter jets as early as 2022.

State Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat who chairs the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee, inquired about additional natural sound buffers to help residents living near 352 acres the National Guard leases for the 125th Fighter Wing at Jacksonville International Airport. But she, otherwise, backed the effort to attract the F-35 jets, which Maj. Gen. Michael Calhoun, adjutant general of the Florida National Guard, said could have an economic impact of about $100 million a year on Northeast Florida.

"I'm excited about the possibilities, and I certainly want my pilots in planes that actually function and something doesn't break down midway to where they are going," Gibson said Tuesday in reference to the aging F-15s based at the airport.

The National Guard is one of five finalists to host the fighter jets, though President-elect Donald Trump has questioned the costs of the aircraft.

State Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said that while Jacksonville residents, more than a decade ago, fought a return of jet fighters to Cecil Field, he anticipates full support from Northeast Florida for landing the F-35.

"I think everybody has come to a real understanding of how important this would be to our area if we were to gain these assets," Bradley said.

A tour of the facility is planned by the base selection committee in April.

While no timeline has been announced for site selection, Jacksonville is competing against facilities in Montgomery, Alabama; Boise, Idaho; Selfridge, Michigan and Dane County, Wisconsin.