It was thrilling to see the world’s most advanced aircraft, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, light up South Carolina’s skies at a recent Beaufort Air Show. The F-35 is having a tremendous impact on America’s national security and on South Carolina’s economy.
The F-35 is critical to maintaining America’s air superiority. While our adversaries in China and Russia are trying to develop a fifth-generation fighter, America and our closest allies already are flying the F-35. The fighter offers advanced radar and infrared capabilities, tested against the existing and likely threats for which we must prepare.
The F-35 rightly has been called the world’s most advanced aircraft, and South Carolina is central to its deployment. Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort was selected as one of the first bases in the country for the F-35. Today, there are 26 F-35Bs stationed in Beaufort, and the base eventually will be home to a total of 70 F-35Bs, four squadrons. As the F-35 program grows, McEntire and Shaw are contenders to host squadrons as well.
Along with housing a squadron of F-35s, the Beaufort Air Station is home to the Lockheed Martin Corps Pilot Training Center, an international hub for pilot training for the F-35. In South Carolina, the next generation of fighter pilots from the United States and our allies are gaining skills to fly these cutting-edge aircraft.
The first class of pilot graduates completed training in February, and eventually there will be 60 graduates a year. The F-35 pilot training program in Beaufort is helping to prepare mission-ready Marines, who will be instrumental in defending our nation.
The pilot training center is equipped with electronic classrooms and five high-fidelity full mission simulators to prepare pilots for their missions. Lockheed Martin has more than 100 employees supporting the F-35 training in Beaufort.
The new economic impact study by the S.C. Military Base Task Force shows that the Beaufort Air Station represents $787 million in annual economic activity and approximately 7,253 jobs.
The fact that the F-35 will replace the F-18 in Beaufort as those jets are phased out is key. Because the air station is heavily engaged in training and transition to the F-35, it bodes well for further growth of that critical economic driver for our state.
The F-35 has strong military and economic value to our state, and our nation.
As chair of the S.C. Military Base Task Force, I know that the F-35 has strong military and economic value to our state, and our nation. Most importantly, I know that it can help protect our brave men and women in uniform as well as other American citizens.
It’s important, then, that our state and federal leaders fully support the F-35 program as part of South Carolina’s strong and continuing legacy of supporting America’s national security. It keeps our military at the absolute leading edge of technology and provides an increasing economic boost to all South Carolina.
We encourage federal lawmakers to support continued development and production of the F-35, for the good of our service members, our state, our country and the world.
Mr. Bethea chairs the S.C. Military Base Task Force; contact him at email@example.com.