We support efforts to win a Boise F-35 mission — then make it a good fit

The prospect of a combat aircraft mission at the Idaho Air National Guard base at Gowen Field should be nothing new.

Boise has been host to nine different types of military fighter aircraft over the past 70 years. Our Air Guard personnel in the 124th Fighter Wing — who are also our neighbors — have served valiantly in many wars and conflicts around the world. Some were thrust into harm’s way during Middle East missions last year. Though many returned, some could still be there in support of our national interests.

Such air missions and Gowen Field are inseparable — and inspirational to everything else that Idaho and the Treasure Valley are about. And that’s why we offer our support for the F-35 mission.

We understand the apprehension some have about Boise airspace being tapped for a supersonic fighter jet. No one should sugarcoat the reality of winning this mission and the full spectrum of impact, considering everything from the negatives of noise, to the huge positives for our economy. Studies show Gowen Field is responsible for 1,300 “direct” jobs, a total of 2,800 “local jobs” and a total economic impact of $155 million.

Today we find ourselves at a crossroads. The A-10 Warthog mission will be phased out in the next few years. For Boise and Gowen Field to maintain the mutually beneficial arrangement, it must win a new mission soon. Boise is in competition with Air Guard locations in Alabama, Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin. Two sites will be chosen for the F-35, which includes an 18-to-24-jet squadron, about the same complement we have with the A-10s today. A decision could be made as soon as August.

Though location, airspace and facilities are among the key considerations the Air Force and the Department of Defense will consider before awarding the mission, so is one other key factor: community acceptance and support.

Put us at the front of the line of enthusiasts. The past teaches us that being selected for a new fighter mission is key to our local economic and national security. Though some might argue for a “softer” or theoretical “noncombat” mission and a transport aircraft, the dangerous world we live in dictates otherwise. Even considering all of the expense and setbacks in its development, the F-35 — which prices out at roughly $95 million per jet (Navy and Marine Corps versions cost more) — is the best bet for our fighter air defense future.

When we hear the A-10s and other visiting aircraft over the Treasure Valley, we are among those who hear the sound of freedom — but we are neither naive nor oblivious to the environmental and noise impacts that will accompany the F-35. We’ve heard from many reasonable people concerned about jet noise, potential pollution and loss of home value.

Though the opposition has valid points, we feel the best opportunity to address the challenges of an F-35 mission is when the government conducts a study and produces an environmental impact statement, which would spell out environmental issues and mitigation measures. The EIS is required before any final decision is made. There are possible options: the purchase of severely affected homes; the potential for a third runway at Gowen Field that redirects takeoffs and landings away from population areas; flying techniques that can lessen noise. The first F-35s would not arrive until 2021 or 2022.

Air Force personnel will visit Gowen Field in early summer to gauge its suitability. We feel they will be impressed with the facilities and air space, and the history of the community to embrace these fighter missions.

We’ll do our part to send a clear message that we welcome the F-35s. If Boise is selected, we’ll do our part to advocate for the best ways to manage any impact the new mission will have on life here in the Treasure Valley — while making those who serve feel at home.

Join us in taking this process one step at a time: win the mission; work to make it a good fit; continue our military heritage by establishing the 10th fighter jet mission at Gowen Field..

We think our future depends upon it.

Unsigned editorial board opinions express the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.