The U.S. Air Force is conducting what amounts to two virtual town halls in early February to provide info and seek comments about a plan to locate a foreign military pilot training center at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith.
Ebbing was selected June 8 by acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth to be the long-term pilot training center supporting F-16 and F-35 fighter planes purchased by Singapore, Switzerland and other countries participating in the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. In addition to Ebbing, the Air Force selected Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan as the alternative site.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the federal agency managing the FMS, notes that the program provides “responsible arms sales to further national security and foreign policy objectives by strengthening bilateral defense relations, supporting coalition building, and enhancing interoperability between U.S. forces and militaries of friends and allies.” The tentative schedule has Ebbing receiving the Singapore F-16s in 2023 and the F-35s in 2025.
It is estimated the center would be home to 345 U.S. military personnel and bring to Ebbing or Selfridge an estimated 180-plus members of the Singapore unit and around 300 dependents.
The “public scoping meetings” as part of the military’s “Environmental Impact Statement” (EIS) will be conducted by the Air Force between 6 and 8 p.m. (Central Standard Time), on Feb. 1 and Feb. 3. Capt. Dylan Hollums, public affairs officer with the 188th Wing at Ebbing, said the virtual meetings are similar to a town hall for those wanting to know more about the training center, and “good way to learn about the timeline of what is going to happen.”
“The FMS PTC would initially provide beddown of up to 36 F-35 aircraft at a single location within the United States. Additionally, as part of the FMS program the Republic of Singapore would relocate 12 F-16s from Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, to the FMS PTC location. An alternative to the Proposed Action is to locate the FMS PTC at Selfridge ANGB, Michigan. Ebbing ANGB is the DAF preferred alternative,” the Air Force notes on the EIS page for the project.
The Jan. 14 edition of the Federal Register includes the “Notice of Intent” from the Department of Defense about the EIS process.
“To effectively define the full range of issues and concerns to be evaluated in the EIS, the Air Force is soliciting scoping comments from interested local, state, and federal agencies and interested members of the public,” according to a section of the Notice.
Some of the info presented at the meetings include the project timeline and possible flight patterns and frequency for the military aircraft, Hollums said.
A website about the EIS process indicates a draft EIS will be posted July 2022, with the final statement published in February 2023. Although Ebbing was selected as the lead site, a final decision on where the center will be located is not expected until March 2023.
To participate in the virtual meetings, visit this website and follow the appropriate links. The meetings can also be accessed by phone at 1-877-853-8547. The meeting ID is 814 7750 7399, and the meeting password is 36126569.
Although a final decision is not expected for another two years, work is set to begin in April on a runway extension at the Fort Smith Regional Airport to support the pilot training center. The city of Fort Smith committed $5 million toward a $22 million project to extend the runway by 1,300 additional feet. The $22 million dollar project is a collaboration between the state, which committed the other $17 million for the project.