El Centro City Council ups the ante in effort to land Navy's newest jet

The F-35C
The F-35C

The City of El Centro, a community of about 47,000 in Southern California’s Imperial Valley and home to Naval Air Facility, El Centro, against huge odds, apparently is making an all-out effort to land the military’s hottest new fighter, the F-35C.

The Imperial Valley Press, in a November 6 news article, reported that the El Centro City Council voted to contribute $10,000 to help the Imperial Valley United for Joint Strike Fighter Home basing Coalition lobby for the new jets to be housed in El Centro.

According to the Imperial Valley Press, the coalition has spent much of the past year lobbying to elected officials in the Navy and Pentagon and other influential people in Washington D.C. who might have an impact on where the squadron will be based.

Lemoore's City Council approved a letter of support on April 2 for the home basing of the F-35C at Naval Air Station, Lemoore.

El Centro and Naval Air Station Lemoore were identified by a Navy February Draft Environmental Impact Report released in February that identified the two Navy installations as most likely sites for housing the new strike fighter.

The report, after identifying characteristics of both locations, identified Naval Air Station Lemoore as the preferred alternative based largely on its ability to maintain and operate a master jet base. Lemoore also has extensive support facilities that can easily be transitioned to the F-35C.

A decision on where the Navy will ultimately house the new jets was expected by the end of the year.

But the Navy’s preferred choice didn’t stop the movers and shakers in El Centro from mounting an effort to convince the Navy that they may have a good thing going in Southern California. The El Centro City Council has ponied up $20,000 so far this year so that the Imperial Valley can travel to Washington D.C. to further their extensive lobbying efforts.

“It’s a huge economic impact,” said El Centro Councilmember Efrain Silva when contacted by The Leader. “There are millions of dollars at stake. We’re trying to demonstrate that El Centro is the most viable location for the F-35C,” he said.

This week’s $10,000 donation from the city council was the second big payday for the Coalition this year. Earlier this year El Centro paid a lobbyist $10,000 to reach out to Washington D.C. officials.

Silva told The Leader he understands the EIR reported that the Navy prefers Naval Air Station Lemoore, but he and the coalition take issue with the Navy’s cost analysis of moving the jets to El Centro. “A lot of people thought the EIR was inaccurate. There’s been an effort to correct that,” he said. Silva simply takes issue with many of the expenses cited by the report to locate the F-35C in El Centro.

Silva admitted that the F-35C brings to any community a big economic impact. “It’s a huge economic benefit whoever gets this and we just want to make sure the information is accurate,” he said.

The Navy wants to replace aging Navy Pacific Fleet FA‐18 aircraft with F‐35C aircraft while meeting pilot training and readiness requirements. According to the report, the home basing may begin as early as 2015. Seven Pacific Fleet FA-18 squadrons (70 aircraft) currently based at NAS Lemoore would transition to the new F-35C beginning in 2015 with the transition to be completed by 2028.

The Navy also wants to create an F-35C fleet replacement squadron consisting of approximately 30 F-35 C planes by 2017.

The Imperial Valley Press reported that Coalition officials said having the Joint Strike Fighter Squadron in El Centro is expected to bring an annual increase of $400 million to the Imperial Valley’s economy with a boost for restaurants, hotels, gas stations, local businesses and more.

Landing the new jet by El Centro would certainly be a surprise considering the EIR’s recommendation and the wealth of open air space and facilities available at NAS Lemoore.

The Navy intends to base all its West Coast F-35C at one location in order to maximize the efficiency of its support facilities, simulation devices, and on-site support personnel, areas NAS Lemoore clearly excels in. Many Navy installations were examined in a three-level screening process to identify potentially suitable F-35C home base locations, and NAS Lemoore and El Centro were identified as the two best alternatives.


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