Business Leaders Support Bringing F-35 to Tucson


7/12/12  By David B. Pittman


Lockheed Martin officials descended upon Sargent Aerospace & Defense in Marana recently to demonstrate the capabilities of the F-35 Lightning II, which is described as the world’s most advanced military fighter aircraft.

They were greeted by an enthusiastic audience of Sargent employees, elected officials, political hopefuls, business leaders and news reporters, many of whom took the opportunity to get behind the controls inside the cockpit of an F-35 flight simulator.

Lockheed Martin, a leading global security and aerospace contractor based in Bethesda, Md., brought it’s “road show” to Marana and to Sargent, a leading supplier for the F-35 project.

Sargent is designing and manufacturing more than 70 flight-critical components for the supersonic aircraft, including hydraulic valves and actuators, structural pins, specialty bearings and pneumatic sealing devices.

“Sargent Aerospace & Defense designs and those of our other Arizona suppliers are critical to the F-35 program, so it is important that they have an opportunity to experience this multi-role fighter’s superior performance capabilities,” said Bob Rubino, director of the U.S. Navy F-35 Program for Lockheed Martin.

“The F-35 program will serve as the cornerstone of global security and will significantly impact the U.S. economy for many years to come.”

As the first F-35s are moving off the assembly line and being flight tested, there has been vociferous debate about where the new planes should be stationed. Tucson opponents of the F-35 complain that increased noise levels, vibration and flight danger posed by the new aircraft make it unsuitable for deployment in Tucson.

Support of the Business Community

The F-35, however, has the strong support of the Tucson business community.

The aircraft has the backing of both the Tucson Metro Chamber and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, which claim it would be disastrous to the local economy if F-35 training is not undertaken in Tucson.

“The 162nd Fighter Wing is the International F-16 Training Center for the U.S. Air Force,” said Ron Shoopman, president and CEO of SALC and a retired brigadier general who formerly commanded the 162nd Fighter Wing.

“If the F-35 doesn’t come to the Air National Guard at TIA, the entire wing is in jeopardy of being shut down,’’ Shoopman said. “It is critical we do everything we can to get the Air Force to assign the F-35 to the 162nd Fighter Wing.”

The 162nd Fighter Wing employs 1,450 people and is Southern Arizona’s 37th largest employer. The economic impact of the 162nd Fighter Wing is estimated to be between $280 million and $325 million annually.

Michael Varney, president and CEO of Tucson Metro Chamber, noted that the aerospace and defense industry in Southern Arizona represents more than 20 companies providing in excess of $5 billion in annual revenues.

“We are trying to grow the aerospace and defense industry in Southern Arizona,” Varney said. “Having the F-35 here is a critical component of the future of that entire industry.”

Proponents of the F-35 say design and early manufacture of the aircraft is already boosting the economy. With 17 Arizona suppliers, the F-35 program supports more than 1,100 direct and indirect jobs and more than $91 million in economic impact across the state.  Nationally, the F-35 program has suppliers in 45 states and provides more than 140,000 direct and indirect jobs. These employment and economic impact numbers will undergo huge increases as the program moves from its initial stages into full-rate production.

“We believe the F-35 will strengthen our military, the economy and, most importantly, our local economy,” said Scott Still, Sargent’s president.