Indiana National Guard general joins Terre Haute's F-35 effort
By HOWARD GRENINGER | The Tribune-Star | Published: September 9, 2020
(Tribune News Service) — Brigadier Gen. R. Dale Lyles, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard, is part of an effort to help put Terre Haute Regional Airport atop of four other airports that could be the site of a new U.S. Air Force F-35 military sales training center.
Lyles met with community, educational and business leaders Tuesday at the airport to launch a coordinated effort to highlight Terre Haute's assets.
"The F-35 project is a foreign military sales project that aims at training foreign nations on how to fly the F-35," Lyles said. "There are partner nations now, specifically Singapore ... looking at repositioning their current training from Arizona, and there are five potential locations of where they may put this site and Terre Haute is one of the five."
"We are trying to strengthen our presentation to the selection committee," the general said.
Other airports under consideration include Buckley AFB, Colo..; Fort Smith Airport, Ark..; Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas; and Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich.
Lyles said the Indiana National Guard needs to make sure the U.S. Air Force "realizes all of the potential here. The Indiana National Guard has more to offer than just helping the Terre Haute facility become the selected site.
"We have the Camp Atterbury ranges, that have air gunnery ranges there (west of Edinburgh). We have the Jefferson Proving Ground (in Madison) that has an air gunnery range there and we also have some of the largest cyber training capability in the world at Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck Urban Training Center (near Butlerville) that could also be leveraged by the foreign military sales program to help Singapore and other nations, not only train their air force, but potentially train their land components as well," Lyles said.
"Indiana has some of the best restricted air space this side of the Mississippi River. We have restricted air space here in the region of Terre Haute, over Camp Atterbury, over the Jefferson Proving Ground and over Muscatatuck that can be used very easily," Lyles said.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett said a training center would be a major economic impact and cited the airport's long history of housing military aircraft, as well the 181st Intelligence Wing based at the airport.
"This opportunity has kind of come out of nowhere in some ways. We were not aware that (the U.S. Air Force was) initially looking at 40 sites, then narrowed that to 15 and now we are one of the final five," Bennett said. "Our goal is find a way to be number one, to be the one selected.
"The economic impact would be tremendous," the mayor said. "The trickle down effect (for west central Indiana) from that is close to half a billion dollars to begin with. It would not cost the city as much, but more about investments from the federal and state level. This would be an Air Force project, so it would be funded by the federal government, but the state plays a big role in this being an Air Guard base.
"Obviously, we will do everything we can to sweeten the pot so we stand out from the competitors. The payback would be tremendous from whatever investment is made," Bennett said. "We know this is done by the Air Force and the Pentagon, (that) those folks in Washington, D.C., will make the decision, so what we have to do is show them this is the best physical location.
"We got the higher education assets here. We can build things cheaper than some of these other competitor locations because of the cost of doing business here. We bring some many things to the table, so our goal is to go out and sell that," Bennett said. "We have to go out and show them why Terre Haute would be the best selection."
Lyles said Terre Haute stacks up well when scoring for a site location.
"When you look at the score of the airports, of the other four sites that could potentially get, Terre Haute racks and stacks very well among those four. What you see today (Tuesday) is an extreme amount of enthusiasm and collaboration from the community that has a strong desire to bring the program here," Lyles said.
"Not only because of the economic benefits the program would receive, but also in the name in our national security interests and our ability to partner with these nations and build capacity through training pilots would go a long way with ensuring our national security objectives are met as well," Lyles said.
"We think that Terre Haute stacks up very well with the baseline requirements for locating the program here. What we think puts us over the edge is what we call the artistic score," he said. "There is the technical score, that gives the baseline requirements — the runway space, hangar capability. Terre Haute has all of those things that will allow this program get to the initial operating capability," the general said.
"The artistic score is what we are after," Lyles said. "What exceeds the expectations of the selection committee and what exceeds the requirements that the site selection committee is looking at. That is collaboration from the community, support from the community, over 1,500 acres of adjacent space for potential opportunities.
As part of the program, Singapore would relocate F-16s to the new training center, prior to transitioning to the F-35.
Up next is an further review of the final five airports, Lyles said.
"We think that the Air Force will take an initial site surface that will happen here in Terre Haute at the end of October. From there it will shake down to a primary and maybe one or two alternates," Lyles said. The Air Force would then conduct an environmental impact study that would then lead to a recommendation to the Secretary of the Air Force, "probably in 2022 for a potential decision or early 2023," Lyles said.
Bennett said a committee of about 25 people, including members of the West Central Defense Network, a division of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, and Indiana National Guard, are working to "sell Terre Haute to the decision makers, with the assistance of the state, obviously, as the governor is helpful, General Lyles, all of the folks involved in the (Terre Haute) Economic Development Corporation. We are the only Indiana option here on the table, so we have the full resources of the state behind us," the mayor said.
"There are challenges ahead, no question, but I think we are in a great position to be able to deliver this, tell them our story and sell Terre Haute as the community, the best option for the Air Force to select," Bennett said.