BOISE, Idaho — On Friday, the Air Force said Mountain Home Air Force Base is the preferred site to become the long-term training location for Royal Saudi Air Force F-15 SA jets, pilots, maintenance and ground crews.
Those jets and crews could bring with them an economic boost worth millions of dollars for Southwest Idaho.
The selection puts a bit of salve on a recent wound for Mountain Home. Earlier this year the base was passed over as a preferred site for the first round of next-generation F-35 fighter jets. The base previously was denied a new mission of F-22s.
“The Air Force, with the strategic basing process, looked at the criteria set by the U.S. and Saudi Air Force and that’s what led them to Mountain Home,” said Col. Pete Lee, the vice commander of the 366th Fighter Wing. “They wanted a desert environment ... and air space ... it’s the perfect fit for our mission here at Mountain Home.”
A final decision, which includes congressional approval and an environmental study, is likely at least six months away, Lee said. “Honestly, we are at the very early stages of this.”
The training is part of a $60 billion arms package Saudi Arabia is purchasing from the United States, which includes 84 new F-15E fighter jets and upgrades to the country’s current inventory of fighters.
The Saudi squadron in Mountain Home will likely include 12 aircraft with 50 pilots and from 100 to 200 maintenance personnel, some of whom will bring their families. The Saudis are expected to arrive at Mountain Home in late 2013, with most arriving in 2014.
Meanwhile the base’s own fleet of F-15 aircraft will someday be obsolete. Without a new mission, more than $1.05 billion in annual economic impact for Southwest Idaho could be in jeopardy.
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