Commission chair asks if Cannon can house F35s

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

A beacon, for some base supporters, shone through in the early morning hours Thursday when BRAC Commission Chairman Anthony Principi asked if Cannon Air Force Base could house the Joint Strike Fighter, jet of the future.

The jet will initially need a sea-level training center, but Cannon, said BRAC Commissioner Lloyd Newton during Thursday’s BRAC deliberations, would be an ideal location for the Joint Strike Fighter.

Some regarded the brief discussion as a positive precursor to today’s Cannon vote, scheduled for early morning, said BRAC Deputy Director of Communications Robert McCreary.

“It clearly shows this commission is concerned that the closure of Cannon is wrong. (Principi’s) questioning why — why Cannon was not considered for other missions — it shows us that the commission is considering the value of Cannon,” said Washington Committee member Randy Harris, in Virginia at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City hotel for deliberations.

Harris said that although the Commission intended to cast their Cannon votes on Thursday, too many Joint Cross Service considerations delayed their plans.

If the Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35, does make its way to Cannon, delivery of the jet wouldn’t be likely until 2009, according to John Kent, spokesperson for Lockheed Martin, government contracted F-35 designer and producer. Only by 2012 will the company have produced enough aircraft and supply equipment to go into battle, Kent said.

“The program is going along well — we are on schedule. The very first test airplane is on the assembly line now,” Kent said. Low rate production of the F-35 will begin next year, he said.

Lockheed developed four different versions of the plane, each version equipped with interchangeable parts, and some features molded to Navy, Army, Marines and Air Force needs. The cost of the plane, depending on the version needed, can run from $45 to $60 million, Kent said.

“It will be the world’s first stealth, multi-role fighter,” Kent said. The key word in that phrase, he added, is stealth.

“It is very difficult for radar to detect the plane’s presence,” Kent said, due to the “way the outside of the airplane is shaped.” The F-35 is set to replace the military’s aging F-16s, designed in the 70s, and fly in conjunction with F-22s.

However, reports that the DoD recently slimmed down its F-35 purchase by thousands. The JSF could meet with myriad challenges in “bed down” communities, according to the Web site. The aircraft produces a large amount of thrust, the Web site said, polluting air quality and creating quite a racket.