A news conference was held Friday at Tulsa's Air National Guard base, as the Oklahoma National Guard makes a bid to be an operational location for the F-35 "Lightning II" fighter jet. It could ensure the base maintains a role as a combat-ready asset for the Air Force.
The Air National Guard has been flying the F-16 in numerous operations, making it competitive with other Air Force installations. That plane will be replaced with the F-35 sometime between 2026 and 2030, according to Colonel Max Moss of the Oklahoma National Guard.
Though the decision is years away, Tulsa officials want to work in advance to keep the air base here. A task force is being formed to lobby for the placement of an F-35 air wing in Tulsa.
The Air Force is choosing which Air Guard bases will make the transition and which will stay with technology that, in ten years or so, will be out of date and unnecessary.
The fighter wing in Tulsa is right by the airport, with 21 fighter jets and 1,100 people on the payroll. To make sure that all stays in place, local and state officials plan to work together on a proposal for the Air Force to transition the base to the new aircraft.
Air Guard bases that get the new planes will be needed long in the future; for the others it's uncertain.
"The F-35 will be flying for decades in the future and we want to make sure we're part of that future," said Colonel David Burgy with the Oklahoma National Guard.
Oklahoma's Governor picked the group for a task force which hopes to convince the Pentagon to make Tulsa one of a handful of F-35 Air Guard bases.
Twenty people are on the task force including Mayor Dewey Bartlett, Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb, former Director of the Air National Guard Lieutenant General (ret) Harry M. Wyatt III and Major General Robbie Asher, the adjutant general for Oklahoma.
They are promoting the area's access to training ranges, the infrastructure at the Tulsa Air National Guard Base and community support for the military, a news release states.
The competition will be tough and a short list will develop over the next year.
The transition to the new planes would happen in 2022.
"The transition from the F-16 to the F-35 has a lot of very, very, positive repercussions and consequences for our community that will last for decades,” Bartlett said.
The city has already helped the base add a fueling station that could work with the new planes.
The colonel that oversees the fighter wing said the 1,200 airmen who support the operation can easily handle the new aircraft.
The challenge is selling the idea in Washington.
"The F-35 is the future of the manned fighter business for tactical aviation and the 138th Fighter Wing and the Oklahoma National Guard is such a prominent piece of this community and northeast Oklahoma that we want to be sure to secure that for decades to come," Burgy said.
The lobbying will start immediately. The congressional delegation is involved.
The decision will come in about a year.