The commander of the nation’s Fleet Readiness Centers has written a letter of support for an F-35B lift fan facility to be built at Fleet Readiness Center East at Cherry Point.
According to an announcement from the office of U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., 3rd Dist., Rear Admiral Paul Sohl, commander of Fleet Readiness Centers, penned the endorsement letter for the $43.6 million facility to Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, who is head of the F-35 Joint Program Office.
The purpose of the facility is to test the vertical lift engine and components for the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. The facility was originally to be constructed in 2012 but delays and budget issues prompted the Navy to remove it from the Future Years Defense Program. Jones and other North Carolina legislators have asked that the facility be funded in 2018.
“Considering that the vertical lift fan is an essential, high-stress component of the F-35, I believe it is critically important that facilities in addition to the original equipment manufacturer be available for depot-level maintenance and testing,” Jones said in a statement. “Allowing this work to be done by the capable employees of FRC East would be the right decision for Eastern North Carolina, the service members who will depend on the F-35’s readiness, and the taxpayers who are funding the aircraft’s acquisition and maintenance.”
Fleet Readiness Center East had already been chosen as the location for airframe and engine maintenance and repair work on the F-35. FRC East is currently performing modifications on Marine Corps F-35Bs.
“It’s good news, but the great news will be when the funds to build the facility are in place and that hasn’t happened and therefore continues to be a concern,” said Jimmy Sanders, a member of the Board of Directors for the Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow lobby group. “We’re very appreciative for what the congressman is doing and as always, he is working hard for FRC. It is a vitally important facility at the FRC for the F-35 in the future, and we need to get the facility constructed. Sooner is better.”
While legislators and other supporters have been behind the lift fan facility, they have also lobbied for a perimeter security fence and security additions that will have to be among the first projects to prepare Cherry Point for the planned basing of Joint Strike Fighter squadrons at the air station.
“The perimeter fence is certainly absolutely needed,” Sanders said. “We have to have the perimeter fence or the rest of it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to get first things first. The first thing that you have to have is the perimeter fence in order to have the aircraft here. We’re pleased with the progress that that is making, but we also want the lift fan facility. That’s a very important capability for the FRC for the long-term support of the F-35.”
Cherry Point is scheduled to receive the first of six planned F-35B squadrons at Cherry Point in 2021 or 2022. The security additions top the Navy’s list of unfunded items in the Department of Defense budget.