Senator Lindsey Graham and Representative Joe Wilson are publicly lobbying the Marine Corps to base several next-generation fighter planes at a Beaufort military installation. Both congressmen spoke to reporters in a press conference Monday outside the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
Both are hoping the US military chooses the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort as the site for five new squadrons that use the new F-35B Lightning II planes. Although the Station missed the cut for the first round of F-35’s, city officials are optimistic about their chances this time.
Retired Marine Corps General Garry Parks chairs the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Military Enhancement Committee. He explaned to SCRN why it was so important to be on the national shortlist.
With military budget cuts looming, we think its important to get the first jets, because the last ones may be either downsized… or perhaps not even come, ever.
The F-35B model is a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) plane designed for the Marine Corps, which frequently operates aboard ships and in tight places.
An environmental impact assesment filed by the Navy suggests that Beaufort could host three operational squadrons of F-35’s and two training squadrons. Parks says the presence of those squadrons could make a big difference the next time the Base Realignment Commission, or BRAC, decides which military posts should be closed.
There’s nothing that “BRAC-proofs” a community or an installation. But it will help… because it’ll be the only site on the East Coast where pilots will be trained for the Marine Corps.
Parks says a new facility would have to be constructed for the planes, meaning hundreds of jobs could be created. He says all of these positive factors leads him to believe the station is in good position to get the planes.
Parks says bringing training squadrons to Beaufort could also have international implications, since US allies have also purchased the planes. He said smaller countries often don’t have the training facilities Beaufort would offer.
The Navy and Marine Corps are currently reviewing their options. Parks said a decision is expected on December 3rd.