Fort Smith remains preferred site for foreign pilot training center

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 2,901 views 

An F-16 flown by the Singapore Air Force.

A final Environmental Impact Statement released in late January by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) continues to show Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith as the “preferred” site for a foreign pilot training center.

Ebbing was selected June 8, 2001 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 Selfridge, Mich., as the alternative site.

A final “Record of Decision,” or ROD, could come in late February or early March.

According to the USAF, Ebbing is the preferred home for “consolidation of F-35 FMS training activities and the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) F-16 aircraft operations at a single location, construction of new or renovation of existing infrastructure to support FMS training and RSAF operations, and the integration of up to 24 FMS F-35 aircraft and 12 RSAF F-16 aircraft relocated from Luke Air Force Base (AFB), Arizona.”

The pilot training center would add “about 384” military personnel to Ebbing, which now has about 1,000 members with around 660 being full-time. Also according to the USAF, up to 800 “associated dependents” would move to the Fort Smith metro.

“The increase of personnel related to the FMS PTC beddown and associated range support is still being determined based on the total aircraft on-base at any one time,” noted the EIS report.

Ebbing is now home to the 188th Wing. The 188th’s three primary missions are Remotely Piloted Aircraft (MQ-9 Reaper); Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR); and Targeting (Space-Focused).

Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tim Allen said he was pleased to see Fort Smith remain as the preferred alternative in the EIS report.

“We’re excited that the behind-the-scenes work of the last two years has gotten us to this point. The Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, with our partners, has a plan for welcoming the servicemen and women, their families and the program to Ebbing Air National Guard Base and the community. That work is moving us closer to the Record of Decision being signed sometime this spring by the United States Air Force,” Allen said in a statement to Talk Business & Politics.

Following are other notes in the EIS report.
• Facility construction and upgrades would include modification and renovation of several buildings, construction of F-35 simulator training facilities, new sunshades, and construction of two aircraft barrier arresting kits.

• Total off-base land exposed to noise levels of DNL (day-night levels) 65 dB and greater would expand from 207 acres to 8,062 acres in Fort Smith. Residential land exposure would increase from 11 acres to 1,821 acres.

• Total off-base land exposed to noise levels of DNL 65 dB and greater would increase to 7,170 acres in the Selfridge area. Residential land exposure would increase by 2,177 acres.

• Under the “Environmental Justice” category, the report noted: “The Preferred Alternative would result in disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority populations surrounding the installation and FSRA. The Preferred Alternative would also result in environmental health risks and safety risks that may disproportionately affect children, and the elderly.”

• The Preferred Alternative does not involve socioeconomic factors under airspace. There would be a less than 1% increase in local population surrounding the installation. Some beneficial impacts may occur due to additional population.

• Potential decrease in property values could occur (0.2 to 2.0% per dB increase). The estimated number of housing units within the DNL 65 dB or greater noise contours under the Preferred Alternative increase over the No Action from 18 to between 2,579 and 3,014 depending on afterburner scenario.

Although a final decision has not yet been issued, work began in early 2022 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.

Link here for a PDF of the EIS summary report.