3 things to know about the fighter jet program coming to Fort Smith

Alex Gladden
Fort Smith Times Record
F-35B Lightning fighter jets are expected to fly out of Fort Smith's Ebbing Air National Guard Base by the year 2026 following the base being named the preferred site for a future multi-national training site. A squadron of F-16 fighter jets from Singapore is expected to arrive at Ebbing in 2023.

The Fort Smith airbase will soon be home to a long-term program, training pilots from other countries how to fly F-16 and F-35 fighter planes. Here's a list of three things you need to know about the plan's anticipated impact on Fort Smith. 

The Basics 

The program will bring approximately 825 people to the Ebbing Air National Guard Base, including more than 180 people from Singapore, according to a press release from the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. None of these people will live on the base, said Lt. Col. Brian Mason, who serves with the Arkansas National Guard. 

The Singapore unit and a dozen F-16 planes will begin to arrive on base by 2023, relocating from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where the base is maxing out on the number of aircraft it can hold, Mason said. The 12 F-35 planes will arrive in 2026

Each training class of Singaporeans should remain on the base for about two years, said retired Col. Rob Ator, currently the state director of military affairs. Another class would rotate in after the two-year stint is completed.

Several upgrades will be made to the base including at least two new buildings and extending one of the runways by 1,300 feet. 

Ator expects the runway addition to cost about $22 million. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has pledged $17 million to the project. 

Economic Impact 

Officials estimate the program should have an impact of between $800 million and $1 billion on the city annually, Ator said. 

“This is like dropping a GM plant in the middle of the state," Ator said, espousing the monetary benefits the program has on Fort Smith. 

Area realtors think the move will raise the value of houses in the city and keep the housing market strong. 

“I do believe that it’s a big shot in the arm for Fort Smith," said Clif Warnock, principal broker and owner of Warnock Real Estate. 

He said with news of the program, people can look at the housing market and depend on it to stay strong for the next three to five years. 

Warnock added that builders in the area need to be prepared to begin building houses at a rate they have not done since prior to the 2008 economic crash. 

“They’re going to be a little more optimistic to build like they did in 2005 and 2006 when there was a lot more construction going on in Fort Smith," Warnock said. 

There are currently not a lot of houses available in the city, and moving approximately 825 people into the city will skyrocket the need for more housing, Warnock said. 

Pam Weber, executive broker of Weichert Realtors - The Griffin Company, said she thinks the housing market will have reached enough normalcy to support the influx of people. 

“I’m really looking forward to welcoming all these people here," Weber said. 

The Noise 

F-16s and F-35s can reach upwards of 116 decibels. For reference, a lawn mower is around 90 decibels and a rock concert can reach 120 decibels. 

Areas close to the airport already hear jets coming to and from the area, but with the introduction of the additional aircraft,it may get louder. 

Sodies Wine and Liquor sits close to the airport on Pheonix and General Manager Shaina Jones said although it can get loud, it currently isn't a problem.

"There are times it gets loud, but never enough to cause a disruption," said Jones. "It comes over fairly quickly and it's gone."

When F-35s were introduced to the Vermont Air National Guard, some residents argued that the jets were detrimental to their health. According to a report from the Burlington Free Press, a group called Save our Skies VT, argued that F-35s should be stationed farther away from the densely settled communities. 

The group says exposure to the noise can be harmful to their health, cause problems with children and impede their learning as well as the possibility of nuclear threats as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can be equipped with a nuclear warhead. 

In Wisconsin, a fighter jet unit based in Madison is switching their F-16s with F-35s. Although the jets will not  arrive until 2023, there is already a concern for the noise pollution they could generate. 

In 2019, the Madison City Council asked the Air Force to potentially reconsider the preferred site for the F-35s with 15 Dane County Supervisors signing a letter opposing the jets.

Press Argus-Courier reporter Ty Thompson contributed to this article.