Arkansas Air National Guard Base chosen as training location
Starting next spring, the noise of fighter jets will once again fill our skies, pending an environmental study from Ebbing Air National Guard Base at Fort Smith expected to be released in March 2023.
It will be the sound of maintaining the free world order, freedom and democracy at home and abroad. Veterans can hear it with nostalgia and remember the good feeling of air superiority. The sounds will erupt with our legacy of commitment to national security and a peaceful world order.
The US Air Force announced in June 2021 that Arkansas Air National Guard Base had been chosen as the preferred location for a pilot training center to support F-16 and F-35 fighter jets purchased by countries participating in the foreign military sales program.
It is appropriate for us to host such a place, given our history of contributing to United States security requirements. Fort Smith has played a major role in national defense since its establishment in 1817 as a far western outpost. Later a larger and more substantial fort was built, and we became the seat of the American Western District Court and Camp Chaffee. As the needs of the nation have changed, our role has changed.
These needs change again. A recently aggressive Russia in Europe and a China in the Indo-Pacific pose a threat to global peace and stability. The Pilot Training Center is our opportunity to play a part in training and preparing our allies who exist near the antagonists.
In May, Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered a speech clarifying US policy toward China, calling the 2020s a “decisive decade.”
In his speech, Blinken said, “Since 1945, America and her allies have built a world order that has to a large extent maintained peace and promoted the welfare of the peoples of the world… No country has benefited of this order more than China, whose current power and prosperity were due to the opportunities the US-backed system offered for growth through trade. Rather than using its power to maintain and expand the global system, China has chosen to challenge it.
The Wall Street Journal article “Blinken’s Indo-Pacific Blueprint” (May 30, 2022) reads: “Mr. Blinken is committed to working with U.S. allies to effectively compete with China economically, diplomatically and military to ensure the survival and prosperity of the current global system.
It is ironic that a communist country has become wealthy within the world order it now seeks to undermine. This highlights the importance of global alliances and cooperation. We are truly at a crossroads with authoritarian rulers seeking to safeguard and expand their own power at the expense of their sovereign neighbors.
Russia’s war in Ukraine showed this clearly in Europe. Ukraine has chosen closer ties with the West and has never been a threat to Russia. It was President Vladimir Putin who felt threatened by the possibility of Ukrainian prosperity – if his neighbor prospered, as Poland did, with closer ties to the West, Russian citizens might demand reforms that he doesn’t want to do.
If the 2020s are going to be a breakthrough decade, the Pilot Training Center is an opportunity for Fort Smith to help make it happen again.
If the environmental report is positive, Fort Smith can expect the arrival of the F-16s around June 2023 and the first F-35s in July 2024. The first training contingent will be the Singapore Air Force .
Singapore lies near the vital sea route of the Strait of Malacca. It is the busiest strait in the world and the main shipping route between the Indian and Pacific oceans.
Ebbing could eventually accommodate air force personnel from other countries during the program, including Poland and Finland, and the base could remain indefinitely. Poland and Finland share a border with Russia; Poland as a member of NATO and Finland have recently applied for membership.
It’s interesting to be part of the vanguard, to help shape the logistics, strategy and tactics of the free world.
Columnist Walter Russell Mead said, “The secret weapon of American diplomacy is the deep community of interest between the United States and the peoples of the Indo-Pacific.”
For Fort Smith residents, community of interest is close to home.