U.S. House bill includes $70 million for pilot training center in Fort Smith

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 642 views 

F-35 fighter jet

Funding efforts for the next U.S. fiscal year are already underway. At least $70 million could be used to build an academic training base at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith to support the foreign pilot training center.

The office of U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, said Thursday (May 23) that the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies bill for fiscal year 2025 passed out of the House Appropriations Committee with the $70 million included. The bill now faces full House consideration and must also survive U.S. Senate consideration.

According to Womack’s office, in addition to funding for Ebbing, the House agency bill exceeds a Department of Defense military construction budget request, fully funds veterans’ care, and secures money for defense investments in the Pacific region.

“Taking care of the patriotic Americans who have served and currently serve our country while bolstering our defense capabilities remains the focus for the FY25 bill. It secures $70 million for Ebbing Air National Guard Base Academic Training Center construction along with additional funding for planning and design of future Ebbing projects to further support the critical Foreign Military Sales mission in Fort Smith. I’m proud to see this legislation take an important step forward in becoming law today,” Womack said in a statement.

Womack and U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., have led efforts to secure at least $319 million for the pilot training center at Ebbing since 2021.

Ebbing, home to the 188th Wing in Fort Smith and co-located with the Fort Smith Regional Airport, was selected in March by the U.S. Air Force to be the long-term pilot training center supporting F-16 and F-35 fighter planes purchased by Singapore, Switzerland, Poland, Germany, Finland and other countries participating in the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Singapore also is expected to base 12 F-16s at Ebbing.

The original plan for the base to support 36 planes has been amended to accommodate 46 fighter jets. The most recent estimate is that the training center will cost $850 million when fully operational.

Air Force officials have said F-35 planes and pilots from Poland could begin training in Fort Smith as early as November, with the full complement of planes from Poland estimated to arrive in Fort Smith in September 2025. F-35 pilots and planes from Finland could follow in November. In June/July 2026, planes and pilots from Singapore and Germany are scheduled to arrive in Fort Smith. Swiss F-35 planes and pilots could arrive in April/May 2027.