FORT SMITH, Ark. — There was excitement across the River Valley as Fort Smith landed a foreign military sales pilot training program after nearly two years of work.
Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, U.S. Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton and Congressman Steve Womack applauded the U.S. Air Force’s selection of Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith as the home of the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) mission that will bring F-35 fighter planes and a Republic of Singapore F-16 squadron to the installation.
Tim Allen, the chamber of commerce president and CEO ways the center will not only bring hundreds of families and jobs to the area but interest from companies from the military sector.
“Today’s Record of Decision makes clear and cement Arkansas’ important role in training, equipping, and supplying our friends across the globe. This also means bringing jobs and economic prosperity to the state. I look forward to welcoming the new U.S. Air Force personnel who will be moving to our state and am excited for all our international partners to discover the meaning of Arkansas hospitality," said Gov. Sarah Sanders in a release.
Fort Smith Mayor George B McGill said that "when you hear those aircraft flying overhead— it's the sound of freedom, but it's also the sound of an engine for Fort Smith and the region."
In 2021, Fort Smith was selected as the long-term training center supporting F-16 and F-35 fighter planes purchased by Singapore, Switzerland and other countries.
Since then, members of the delegation have worked Singapore leaders and allies who have an interest in enhancing their air power with the F-35 in addition to recently securing $28 million to support the F-35 FMS program.
The U.S. Government approved the sale of up to 12 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets to Singapore through an FMS program in early 2020. Singapore requested to co-locate its Arizona-based F-16 training detachment with its future F-35 training site. With the Arizona base reaching its hosting capacity in the coming years, the U.S. Air Force identified other locations for potential relocation sites.
“This is a gamechanger for Fort Smith and our state that will enhance economic development and opportunity in the region and strengthen Arkansas’s role in defending our national security. The Arkansas Congressional Delegation has worked tirelessly along with state and community leaders to demonstrate to the Air Force what we all knew – Fort Smith is the best location for this mission,” said U.S. Senator John Boozman.
Air Force officials toured four other sites across the U.S. before making their decision. Over the last year, legislatures from Arkansas have promoted Fort Smith as a capable place for military training and readiness.
State leaders have delivered critical funding in support of an expanded runway while community leaders have invested in the project through the welcome of foreign dignitaries and hosting public comment events.
In 2022, those public hearing meetings were hosted to give people an idea of what work will be done on the base. Some of those plans included constructing simulator training facilities, renovating existing buildings and additions to runways.
The military pilot training could possibly have an economic impact on the region as high as $1 billion a year.
Lt. Col. Drew Gus Nash, Commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing Detachment said that they are "expecting flying operations to start anywhere from September 2024 through September 2025."
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