Air station readies facilities for possible arrival of new jets

Next-generation fighter jets won't be the only new additions coming soon to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

Though how the Corps plans to use MCAS Beaufort to allocate 13 dozen East Coast Joint Stike Fighter squadrons is still unknown, base officials are mulling plans to give the base a facelift to prepare for the jet's eventual arrival.

Those plans include tightened security measures on base and the construction of several new hangars to house the jets, which are expected to cost between $80 and $90 million each, said Gunnery Sgt. Chad McMeen, air station spokesman.

"This is a 21st century aircraft that will require 21st century infrastructure to support it," McMeen said. "There are certain planning assumptions that can be made for us to remain proactive. It's easier to alter a plan in place than to start from scratch."

The number of hangars the base will need to build depends on the findings of an environmental impact statement expected to be released later this month. In addition to examining the jet's effects on noise and the base's compatible-use zone, the report will detail how the Corps plans to divvy up 10 operational squadrons, one reserve squadron and two training squadrons between MCAS Beaufort and MCAS Cherry Point, N.C.

MCAS Beaufort could receive all of the training squadrons, none of the operational squadrons or a combination of both types, according to a notice published in the Federal Register.

Regardless of how the Corps divides the squadrons, MCAS Beaufort needs new hangars, McMeen said.

"The current hangars were built in the 50's and much like an automobile, the structures have a service lifespan and the current hangars are nearing the end of theirs," McMeen said.

Expected to replace all of the F/A-18 Hornets flown at MCAS Beaufort, the arrival of the JSF at Fighertown also will impact base security.

"This aircraft employs stealth technology and with that capability comes more security and restricted access," McMeen said. "Clearly there are specifics we will never talk about since we don't want to tip off the bad guys, but there will no longer be access to the general public for tours or family members."

Security near the flight line, where the jets will be kept, is expected to be even tighter.

"Access to the flight line area will be very restricted," McMeen said. "Access cards will be required and each individual without the card will be subject to a background check before entry is granted."

The construction isn't expected to begin until later this year or early 2011, according to base officials. The JSF is likely to arrive in Beaufort in 2014 or 2015.