Recently, we celebrated another critical milestone at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort’s Pilot Training Center. The first two pilots from Italy, a great American ally and partner on the F-35 Lightning II program, graduated training and are now flying the world’s most advanced fighter jet.
The Italian pilots joined the ranks of more than 75 other pilots from both the U.S. and the United Kingdom who have trained in Beaufort since the center opened in October 2014. As a community, we can feel proud of the active role Beaufort is playing in protecting our nation and promoting international peace and security.
The transformational F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has advanced stealth and tactical technologies to make the fighters undetectable when flying over enemy airspace. As we face increasing threats around the globe, the F-35 is helping to keep safe America and our allies. In fact, one Beaufort-trained F-35 pilot is on the front lines, flying missions near the Korean Peninsula out of MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. With the stealth technology and advanced capability of the F-35, that pilot and his/her fellow marines play an important role in strengthening national security and regional stability in the Asia Pacific.
We prepare mission-ready Marines at MCAS Beaufort, in part, because of the cutting-edge technology at the Pilot Training Center, which houses five state-of-the-art Full Mission Simulators. These simulators give pilots real, hands-on training, so that when they transition from the training center to the single seat in an F-35, they are fully prepared for their critical missions.
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The success of the training program in Beaufort has prompted the Marine Corps to plan to increase the number and scope of training courses offered here. At the same time, the number of jets in our training squadron is projected to grow rapidly. Currently, we have about 30 U.S. and U.K. F-35B jets on the flight line and that number is expected to increase in the future. Eventually, the Marine Corps plans to have 70 fighters, or a total of four squadrons, based in Beaufort.
There is another benefit of the F-35 to our region. The economic impact of the F-35B in Beaufort is good for all of us living in the area. Military and Lockheed Martin personnel have relocated to the Beaufort area, and of course, pilots come for training and bring their families to our region. Over time, this means more spending and jobs, effects which will continue to grow as more pilots attend pilot training in Beaufort and more F-35s are based here.
It is clear pilots trained here in Beaufort are playing a critical role in defending our nation during these uncertain times. Our entire community can take pride in that fact.
The federal government’s continued investment in producing the world’s most advanced military technology, as well as in providing exceptional training for those who operate it, will continue to benefit our nation’s warfighters and those of us who live near and support MCAS Beaufort.
These are the many reasons why it’s so important for South Carolina’s federal and state leaders to continue to support the growth of the F-35 program, which is good for South Carolina, for our nation and for the world.
Cliff Mrkvicka is field sales support systems engineer and site senior manager at MCAS Beaufort for Lockheed Martin.