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WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called the F-35 future pilot training center at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith “critical” to national security during a Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing Thursday.

U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) applauded the recent Air Force decision to make Ebbing Airfield the future home for the F-35 U.S. and allied pilot training and raised the importance of the mission for national security to the secretary.

“Secretary Austin, you mentioned in your testimony that our cooperation with our allies and partners is central to co-developing advanced capabilities for our warfighters. Recently the record of decision was signed by Secretary Kendall that will make Ebbing Airfield in Fort Smith, Arkansas the future home for F-35 U.S. and allied pilot training. I continue to work with the Air Force to make Ebbing a premier pilot training center and ensure it is ready on time to train our allied partner pilots,” Boozman said. 

“It’s critical. As our allies and partners invest in the kinds of capability that we have, F-35s are a great example. We need to make sure that we’re working together to increase interoperability, and we do that by not only making sure that we have the policies and procedures in the right place, but there is frequent contact – us working together with each other.” Austin said. “And so the capability that you’re speaking of in Arkansas I think is critical. I know that we have some allies and partners that are really looking forward to using that capability, so thanks for what you’re doing to broaden our capacity.” 

In March, the U.S. Air Force announced it selected Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith to host the future F-35 Foreign Military Sales program that trains military personnel from allied nations on the fifth-generation fighter jet, as well as the new home for the 425th Fighter Squadron, a Republic of Singapore F-16 Fighting Falcon training unit currently based at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

Last Friday, Boozman joined Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Senator Tom Cotton, Congressman Steve Womack and Fort Smith community leaders to celebrate the decision.