The Marine Corps broke ground Thursday on a new training facility at its Beaufort air base.
The Navy announced last year that it plans to place five squadrons of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, for a total of 88 planes.
MCAS Beaufort will also serve as a training base for the new aircraft, also known as “Lightnings.” The new $70 million project consists of a new training center and simulator, as well as a new hangar for the planes. 40 of the aircraft will make up a pair of training squadrons. The remaining 48 will be in three operational squadrons.
The stealth aircraft are supposed to replace the F-18 Hornets currently flown out of Beaufort. However, the project has been delayed by skyrocketing production costs and several bad test flights. The program was very nearly cancelled earlier this year and is still on probation.
“I think there was a sense of relief,” Public Affairs Officer 1st Lt. Sharon Hyland, said, “As in, ‘okay, we just took our next step.’ Now our next thing is the ribbon-cutting. I think it became one closer step to reality.”
Beaufort Air Station has never hosted training before, which Lt. Hyland said will add a new element to the base. “The squadrons that we have here… they go and deploy,” she said, “Now we have to start to transition over to a training mission here on base.”
The project is scheduled to be finished by January 2014.
The presence of the new stealth aircraft will likely mean tighter security at the base in the future.