‘Deep work’ ongoing to establish foreign pilot training center in Fort Smith

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 2,870 views 

With Fort Smith chosen for a foreign pilot training center, members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation are pushing to secure funding, commitments, and relationships from and with the U.S. Air Force and officials in Singapore.

The Ebbing Air National Guard base, which is home to the 188th Wing in Fort Smith, was selected on June 8, 2021, 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. The final decision was signed on March 10, clearing the way for Ebbing to be the next home for the 425th Fighter Squadron, a Republic of Singapore F-16 Fighting Falcon training unit now based at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

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.”

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., on Tuesday (April 18) spoke to Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., about the importance of the FMS program and the pilot training center now to be created at Ebbing. The discussion was part of a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, of which Boozman is a member. Specifically, Boozman noted that as U.S. military branches continue to integrate the F-35 into the fleet, the “U.S. bases are becoming resource constrained and affecting our and our allies’ ability to train.”

Brown said the Air Force is focused on getting the training center at Ebbing operational.

The Air Force is working to “get Ebbing up to speed and part of that is also to meet the timeline associated with the work we’ve done with our allies and partners so they can get their training on time. In the big scheme of things it helps us all to get their training on time and we appreciate the support from your delegation and we’ve done some really deep work internal to the Department of the Air Force to align things to make sure we get that capability on time at Ebbing,” Brown said, according to a statement from Boozman’s office.

Boozman and U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, recently traveled to Singapore to thank officials there for supporting the decision to locate the pilot training center in Fort Smith.

“I was glad to travel to Singapore with Senator Boozman to deepen our strategic partnership and discuss ways to deter increasing threats from our adversaries. We got to shake the hands of our allies and thank them for trusting Ft. Smith to be the home of the Foreign Military Sales mission that will bring F-35 fighter planes and Singapore’s F-16 squadron to Ebbing Air National Guard Base. I look forward to welcoming the new U.S. Air Force personnel to the River Valley and continuing dialogue with our friends abroad,” Womack said in a statement.

According to Boozman’s office, the Arkansas Congressional Delegation has secured $28 million in Fiscal Year 2023 government funding to support the training center at Ebbing.