Beaufort News

Navy preparing air station for JSF jets' arrival

Despite delays in testing the Marine Corps' version of the Joint Strike Fighter, the Navy is moving forward with plans to prepare Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort for the jet's eventual arrival.

By the end of March, officials at Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast in Jacksonville plan to choose a contractor to begin infrastructure improvements needed at the air station to house the new jet, according to a NAVFAC spokeswoman.

"JSF proposals are in, and we are working to award the construction contract in this fiscal year second quarter," said Sue Brink, NAVFAC spokeswoman. "The projects include a pilot training and simulator facility, and an aircraft hangar."

The Navy estimated the pilot training and simulator facility will cost $30 million to $40 million. The hangar will cost an additional $30 million to $40 million, officials said.

Brink declined to provide details on how many bids Navy officials received.

"At this time, any other information pertaining to the project would be considered procurement sensitive until the contract is actually awarded," she said.

Lt. Sharon Hyland, air station spokeswoman, said base officials are excited about Fightertown's upcoming makeover.

"Over the next year, the landscape of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort will change to not only accommodate the operational and training demands of the new (JSF) squadrons but also to prepare for the Marine Corps' first aircraft with stealth technology," Hyland said. "The start of construction on base means that we are one step closer to the arrival of the JSF and that Beaufort will be part of a new chapter in Marine Corps aviation history."

In December, the Navy announced its decision to house three new active-duty JSF squadrons and two pilot-training squadrons -- 88 jets total -- at the air station. The new jets will replace the F-18 Hornets now flown at the base.

Plans to begin construction at the air station come as federal lawmakers and Pentagon officials debate the future of the new fighter jets, which are estimated to cost about $100 million each.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled a budget proposal earlier this month that included giving defense contractors two more years to correct technical problems with the Marine Corps' variant of the JSF, also known as the F-35B.

Specifically, the military wants the jet's contractor, Lockheed Martin, to spend more time developing software so the jets can execute the short-takeoff, vertical landing capability they're supposed to have.

That decision likely means a two-year delay in the arrival of new jets at the Beaufort air station, which was originally slated to begin receiving the aircraft in January 2014 or 2015.

Air station officials have said changes in the delivery schedule would not prevent the base from going ahead with necessary construction and renovation to accommodate the aircraft when they become available.