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F-35 program with hundreds of jobs gets OK to move to Wright-Patt

A pilot takes the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter up for its first night flight near Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Jan. 18, 2012. (Courtesy photo Tom Reynolds/Lockheed Martin/U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force has signed off on a proposal to relocate an F-35 management program to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, a move that one expert said could benefit the military installation for decades to come.

Outgoing Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson confirmed a decision that Wright-Patt will become the new home to the F-35 Hybrid Product Support Integrator Organization at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.

“This is a major day for the base and the Dayton area,” said Loren Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. “The F-35 will be the biggest weapons program in the world for at least the next three decades.”

The value of Wright-Patt hosting the program amounts to “hundreds of billions of dollars” over the next several years, Thompson said.

Thousands of F-35 aircraft, Thompson said, will be operated by the Air Force, Marine Corps. and the United States’ allies. The F-35 is the country’s most expensive weapons system, with projected operating costs of more than $1 trillion, according to an April report from the Government Accountability Office.

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“There is no Air Force program that Dayton could have been better off capturing in terms of value and importance,” Thompson said.

The program could bring at least 400 jobs to the base, U.S. Senators Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, announced last year. Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO of the Dayton Development Coalition, praised Turner, Brown and Portman for their advocacy of the program’s move and support for Ohio’s military installations.

Turner led the Ohio congressional delegation over the past year in advocating to bring the F-35 program to Wright-Patt. Turner said Wednesday he was “glad the Air Force recognized the opportunity” at Wright-Patt.

“This is a huge win for the Miami Valley and is a testament to the exceptional quality of work done by the men and women at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,” Turner said in a prepared statement.

Gov. Mike DeWine praised the F-35 announcement Wednesday, as did Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and JobsOhio, the state’s private nonprofit economic development agency

The decision, DeWine said, recognizes the “expertise within Ohio’s aerospace and defense community,” which he described as “unmatched.” Husted said the move means Ohio will “remain a global leader for the future of aerospace.”

“The F-35 program brings a highly-technical operation that will be in Dayton and sustained by other Ohio businesses for decades to come,” said J.P. Nauseef, JobsOhio president.

The F-35 program is in the midst of a $10.5-billion modernization effort that will run through fiscal year 2024, according to the GAO. A shortage of parts, repair backlogs and mismatched parts have also kept many F-35 jets grounded, with nearly 30 percent unable to fly 30 percent of the time from May through November 2018, the GAO reports.

Parts and cost issues are unlikely to impact the jobs expected to come to Wright-Patt though, Maurice “Mo” McDonald, executive vice president of aerospace and defense for the Dayton Development Coalition said earlier this month.

The current F-35 HPSI organization was established in 2016 in Crystal City, Virginia, at the F-35 Joint Program Office. HPSI supports a global fleet of more than 340 aircraft and when it moves to its new location at Wright-Patt it will be led by the Air Force with a workforce from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, international partners and industry. The organization will be directly accountable to the product support manager within the F-35 Joint Program Office.

The F-35 HPSI’s primary role is to integrate support across the supply chain, maintenance, sustainment engineering, logistics information technology and training disciplines. It will deliver support for fielded F-35s while preparing for future force expansion.

“The F-35 program is critical to the future of the U.S. Air Force and confirms there’s no better place than Wright-Patt for this type of acquisition work,” Hoagland said in a prepared statement. “This new mission will create a lasting economic impact on our region.”

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© 2019 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.