Arkansas has made a multi-million commitment to ensure that the state landed a U.S. Air Force mission in Fort Smith.
The U.S. Air Force selected Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith as the new location for a F-35 training center for Foreign Military Sales participants. This center will have a capacity for up to 36 fighter aircraft. The Fort Smith base will also house the Republic of Singapore’s 425th Fighter Squadron, a training unit for the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
According to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, this new mission will have a major impact on Arkansas’ economy. Adding the mission to the Fort Smith base will have an estimated $800 million to $1 billion annual economic impact, which is a 20-percent increase in the current economic impact on the state from military bases.
However, Hutchinson noted that there was one hang-up that could prevent Arkansas from landing the deal. The base’s runway needed to be extended for the U.S. Air Force to consider the base – a project that would cost millions.
“One of the hurdles that we had to overcome in this is that we were advised that they needed 1,300 additional feet of runway that was needed for this training mission. The cost was $22 million, and it became clear to me that we probably were not going to be successfully in getting this mission if we did not provide a pathway to get that additional runway,” he said.
The state of Arkansas will be kicking in $17 million for the project, while local governments and partners will contribute the remaining $5 million for the project.
“This is part of a success story. It’s part of the hard work, not only in recruiting industry but also in terms of a success for a military installation,” Hutchinson said.
Brad Hegeman, the chair of the Governor’s Military Affairs Committee, said the Fort Smith mission was the result of a years-long process to make Arkansas among the most military-friendly states in the United States. Before the committee began the process of recruiting military missions, Hegeman said that they began assessing how Arkansas was ranked in terms of military friendliness, finding that Arkansas was low on the list, if on the list at all.
Armed with this knowledge, Hegeman said the state prepared an economic impact study of all Arkansas’ military installations and developed a statewide strategic plan to attract missions.
“Over the past five years, Arkansas has seen the growth of existing missions at Little Rock Air Force Base with the addition four C-130 J aircraft and the opening of the 223rdCyber Operations Squadron. New missions include unmanned flying mission at Ebbing Air Force Base, a $100 million increase in production at Pine Bluff Arsenal, increased training at Fort Chaffee, increased utilization of Razorback Range, and the most recent announcement of the F-35 and F-16 missions at Ebbing Air Force Base,” he said.