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April 22, 2010

Posted by allthingshavelock in MCAS Cherry Point.
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Organization suggests basing 11 F-35B squadrons at Cherry Point

 

Navy’s impact study yet to be released

April 21, 2010 6:53 PM
Drew C. Wilson
Freedom ENC

A draft report created for North Carolina’s Eastern Region Development Commission says that the Marine Corps should consider placing 11 squadrons of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters at Cherry Point air station.

RTI International Center for Technology Applications prepared the report for the commission, which received a $115,000 grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation to pay for it. The N.C. Eastern Region, a regional economic development partnership of eastern counties, promotes the region and its business opportunities.

The F-35B is currently being tested, and production models of the plane will be replacing the Marine Corps’ aging fleet of AV-8B Harriers, EA-6B Prowlers and F-18 Hornets.

The Navy is conducting an environmental impact study that will detail basing options for the 168 aircraft that make up the 11 squadrons. That draft study could be released as early as next month.

Five basing alternatives are being considered between Cherry Point and Beaufort, S.C., with Cherry Point receiving as few as 40 or as many as 128 jets.

Citing the huge and long-term economic impact, local officials have been lobbying for as many jet squadrons as possible to be located at Cherry Point. The estimated economic impact per squadron is $30 million to $35 million annually.

The RTI draft report states that Cherry Point would have continued base health with all 11 squadrons and protection from any Base Realignment and Closure process. It also reports that the alternative would increase military readiness and have high community support.

The report also lists Fleet Readiness Center East as another reason to base all the jets at Cherry Point.

“Locating operational squadrons at the same location as a repair depot can greatly support readiness for the squadron,” the report states. “Ensuring an active base by locating new squadrons at Cherry Point to replace retiring squadrons will keep support infrastructure utilization at good capacity and work toward BRAC-proofing the base.”

FRC East has been designated the depot repair facility for the F-35 lift fan and will have shared responsibility for the F-35B airframe.

“Engineering and depot support in close proximity to the operational units can support on-site Engineering Investigations and repair activities,” the report states.

An advantage for Cherry Point is that FRC East is already the Department of Defense designated Vertical Lift Center of Excellence. The F-35B is a STOVL, short takeoff or vertical landing aircraft.

According to the report, Cherry Point reaps the benefits of regional partnerships formed to support the region’s military installations, like the Military Growth Task Force.

Cherry Point, the report states, benefits from a close relationship with Havelock and Craven County.

The first F-35B production models were expected to be based beginning in 2013 but that date may be slipping more toward 2015 or 2016 due to cost overruns and delays.

One disadvantage, the report states, is Cherry Point’s poor scores in the area of civilian encroachment as it relates to Bogue Field in Carteret County. Mariner’s Bay, a proposed multi-family development, is located at the end of the runway. Cherry Point has attempted several times to purchase the property to stop the development, but the air station has been unsuccessful, according to the report.

There has also been a history of noise complaints in Carteret County and Emerald Isle near Bogue Field.

The report also states that crowded airspace around Cherry Point and its bomb ranges are a concern.

Once the Navy releases its report on basing options, a 45-day public comment period will take place that will include public hearings. The Navy will then use the information gathered to create a final report, expected in the fall.

The Navy is expected to make a final basing decision in December.

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