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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017 5 months ago

Senators back bid for F-35 jets at JIA

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State senators expressed support this week for the Florida Air National Guard’s effort to attract a squadron of military F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Jacksonville.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat who chairs the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee, inquired about additional natural sound buffers to help residents living near 352 acres the National Guard leases for the 125th Fighter Wing at Jacksonville International Airport.

But she otherwise backed the effort to attract the F-35 jets, which Maj. Gen. Michael Calhoun, adjutant general of the Florida National Guard, said could have an economic impact of about $100 million a year on Northeast Florida.

“I’m excited about the possibilities and I certainly want my pilots in planes that actually function and something doesn’t break down midway to where they are going,” Gibson said Tuesday┬áin reference to the aging F-15s based at the airport.

The National Guard is one of five finalists to host the fighter jets, though President-elect Donald Trump has questioned the costs of the aircraft.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said while Jacksonville residents more than a decade ago fought a return of jet fighters to Cecil Field, he anticipates full support from Northeast Florida for landing the F-35s.

“I think everybody has come to a real understanding of how important this would be to our area if we were to gain these assets,” Bradley said.

A tour of the facility is planned by the base selection committee in April.

While no timeline has been announced for site selection, Jacksonville is competing against facilities in Montgomery, Ala.; Boise, Idaho; Selfridge, Mich., and Dane County, Wis.

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