Beaufort News

Federal budget dispute delays $60M in contracts for work at air station

The ongoing spat on Capitol Hill over the federal budget is holding up more than $60 million in construction contracts related to the arrival of the Joint Strike Fighter at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Navy officials say.

Officials at Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast in Jacksonville had hoped to choose a contractor last month to begin improvements needed to house the new jet, according to a Navy spokeswoman.

"Contracts for a new pilot training and simulator facility and an aircraft hangar are ready to be awarded," said Sue Brink, the spokeswoman. "We're just waiting on the federal budget to be passed. As soon as that happens, we'll be ready to award these contracts. It should be soon."

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

Officials at the air station also are awaiting federal funding before beginning work related to the jet's arrival, said Lt. Sharon Hyland, air station spokeswoman.

"We're still waiting on the budget," Hyland said.

Navy officials have declined to provide details on how many bids they received, citing a policy not to disclose information considered "procurement sensitive" until after the contract is awarded.

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 jets will replace the F-18 Hornets now flown at the base.

To house the jet, also known as the F-35, the base will undergo $351.8 million in infrastructure improvements over the next five years, according to a Navy report.

The air station was originally slated to begin receiving the aircraft in 2014 or 2015 but technical problems with the Marine Corps' variant of the jet are expected to delay its arrival by at least two years.

The jet's general contractor, Lockheed Martin, announced this week that the Marine Corps' version of the fighter had made 61 vertical landings in the first three months of this year -- six times more than the 10 landings done in all of 2010, according to Reuters.