Airfield security enhancements for Cherry Point top a priority list of unfunded military construction projects for the Navy.
The $19.8 million project appears at the top of the Navy section of the Department of Defense Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative for fiscal year 2015.
“Getting on that list is very important,” said Jamie Norment, a member of Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow lobby group. “Obviously it’s important for getting funding but also it’s important in sending the message that it’s a priority for the Marine Corps. Being number one on the list I think is hugely important and it’s indicative of the future of Cherry Point.”
The security improvements are vital to meeting security needs for Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighter squadrons that will be arriving at Cherry Point by 2021-22, he said.
According to the Navy, the project includes a security fence, pavement of patrol roads and creation of new patrol roads.
“Currently, the airfield does not meet the physical security requirements for a Level II restricted area and F-35 basing,” according to the description of the project on the list. “Numerous access points to the airfield do not have sufficient access control.”
Norment said the project is more than just a security fence.
“If you go out to the air station right now, you can get out of your car and just walk right onto the tarmac. You’re not supposed to do that, but you certainly can,” he said. “What we’ve been told by the Joint Program Office that’s in charge of the Joint Strike Fighter is that the Joint Strike Fighter security requirements and protocols are such that they are not going to base squadrons at an installation where you can just get out of your car and walk onto the runway.”
Before the F-35 squadrons can be based at Cherry Point, the appropriate security is needed, Norment said, adding that similar enhancements have been completed at Yuma, Ariz., where the fifth-generation stealth jets will be based on the West Coast, and are being done at Beaufort, S.C.
“We’ve worked very closely with the Marine Corps and with the Joint Program Office and our congressional delegation to move those enhancements up so that if it is at all possible to get them funded and begun, that they do that, and why that’s important is the sooner that those enhancements are completed the sooner we can have squadrons of F-35s stationed at Cherry Point, which also feeds into our overall strategy of increasing the mission at Cherry Point and enhancing the size of the fleet of aircraft squadrons that are there now,” Norment said.
The unfunded request list is produced at the commandant and deputy commandant level in the Marine Corps. It contains items the Corps believes are important but were not funded in the defense budget submitted to Congress. Should funds become available, Congress would go down the list to pay for projects.
Norment said placement of the base project on the list is a good sign.
“The Marine Corps wants Cherry Point to be a viable installation and they obviously want Cherry Point to have F-35s,” Norment said.