Eglin AFB one of two Florida locations that could house new fighter jet

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Air force is planning to start deploying its new F-35A fighters at 10 locations around the country starting late next year or early in 2011.

And a new study out today of 205 potential locations names the top 10 spots where the planes could be housed for training and military operations – including two locations in the Sunshine State.

The two Florida spots are Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach in the Panhandle, which would be home initially to 59 of the fighters for pilot training; and, the second location is at Jacksonville International Airport, where 18 of the jets would be housed with the Florida Air National Guard.

What this would mean for Florida is further expansion of the military role at Eglin, which already is one of the major pilot training centers for the U.S.; and, a continued strengthening of the Florida Air Guard’s role in responding to an attack by hostile aircraft.

A final decision on stationing of the fighters is expected to come late next year or in early 2011.

While officials largely expected Eglin to be center stage in the process, Jacksonville’s appearance in the top ten was a bit less anticpated.

But still, it came as no surprise to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida who, as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is a strong advocate for the military’s presence in the state.

“The Florida Guard arguably is the finest in the country, and is among the most tested,” Nelson said. “And the importance of Eglin to our national security - it almost goes without saying.”

U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, of Jacksonville, issued a statement on the basing selection report, as well.

“The Air Force began this analysis with over 205 possible locations,” said U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, of Jacksonville. “While there are many steps left before a final choice is made, this announcement is welcome news. Moreover, it demonstrates the hard work done to prevent encroachment of our airspace and ensure our bases have modern facilities and state of art equipment.”

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