FORT SMITH -- Airmen from the Republic of Singapore could one day train with American pilots in Arkansas' second-largest city, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton.
Fort Smith Regional Airport has been selected as one of five possible sites to host both F-35 planes and Singapore's F-16 squadron, Cotton's office said. Cotton has advocated for Fort Smith to be included in this economic development and national security initiative for a long time.
"Fort Smith is a strong candidate for Singapore's F-16 squadron and future F-35 aircraft," Cotton said in a statement. "The United States deeply values our relationship with Singapore, and I appreciate [Air Force] Secretary [Barbara] Barrett's consideration of Arkansas as a location for our important defense partnership. I look forward to working with the Air Force and the state of Arkansas to ensure that Fort Smith is a welcome location for this vital new national security mission."
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack said in a statement that Fort Smith has everything the Air Force needs for the training center.
"With our strategic location and strong community, we are primed to support our allies and the next generation of air combat capabilities," Womack said. "I look forward to working with Secretary Barrett and my fellow Arkansans as the vetting process continues. The River Valley is ready to take on this critical defense mission."
Barrett signed a memorandum on July 6 to establish a permanent Foreign Military Sales training center for 24 to 36 F-35 long-term Foreign Military Sales aircraft and Republic of Singapore air force F-16s based within the continental United States, Cotton's office stated. Singapore's air force is an F-35 Foreign Military Sales customer that wants to have its F-16 squadron, currently at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, with its F-35 aircraft at a long-term site.
A senior staffer in Cotton's office said that Foreign Military Sales means that the United States sells a piece of military equipment to a foreign country, then usually, depending on the equipment, trains that country's personnel in the United States.
Singapore, which the staffer described as a "critical Pacific partner," is a city-state that does not have a great deal of training space for new aircraft.
"Fort Smith is being considered for a joint F-16, F-35 training mission for the Republic of Singapore air force and their airmen," said the staff member.
In addition, the staffer said that while the office currently does not know exactly how much the Air Force would build out at the Fort Smith airport should it be selected -- or how much Singapore would pay for in terms of things such as infrastructure -- training missions like this have, historically, had a significant economic effect on the surrounding community.
"And the beauty of this is you get a trusted partner in there, they pay the bill," the staffer said. "They pay for the barracks you need to host troops, and they pay for modifying the runway to be able to support an F-35 fighter jet, and they pay for hangar space and pilot briefing rooms and things of that nature. It's a double impact because Fort Smith would likely see a pretty significant windfall from the mission, and taxpayers will not be paying to upgrade Fort Smith to host it."
The staffer said the office also does not know when a site will be named. The Air Force will proceed with the next steps of the process in the coming months.
Hulman Field in Indiana, Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, and Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan are also being considered, Cotton's office stated.