HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Military officials gushed about the F-35’s presence at Hill Air Force Base when it arrived earlier this month, and now state economic leaders are following suit.
While critics have said the $1.5 trillion F-35 program has been a boondoggle for U.S. taxpayers, the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development says it’s simply a boon for the state’s economy.
On Sept. 2, Hill received the first two of what will ultimately be 72 F-35A Lightning IIs. The operational combat jets will be divided among three fighter squadrons and continue coming to the base at a rate of one or two per month until 2019.
Hill’s Ogden Air Logistics Complex also provides maintenance, modification and repair for the fifth-generation fighter jet as the Air Force’s only depot maintenance facility for the plane. The ALC works on the F-35 for all service branches and some foreign countries that will operate it.
Marshall Wright, director of GOED’s Aerospace & Defense Cluster, said the jet’s Northern Utah presence will create a ripple effect in private industry, helping businesses that support the F-35 mission.
“You look at the growth of companies like Lockheed Martin and their presence in the Layton area,” Wright said. “They are here because of the F-35. That’s just one example.”
According to Zions Bank’s June 2015 Utah Economic Outlook Report, Lockheed Martin provides 1,889 jobs in Utah, with an economic impact of $161.5 million.
Lockheed Martin manufactures the F-35 and has offices at Hill, Layton and several other Utah locations. Michael Sullivan, GOED communications director, said several other companies — like Orbital ATK, which makes composite structures for the F-35 — have grown because of the jet.
“It’s synergistic,” he said. “When the military grows, the private sector grows, too. They all feed off of each other.”
Because the plane is made up almost entirely of composite materials, Sullivan said the aerospace industry’s composites sector stands to thrive from the F-35 at Hill. Software companies also will benefit.
According to the Air Force, the jet contains over 8 million lines of computer code, including advanced automation for sensors, voice recognition, and missile and threat management systems.
According to a GOED press release, this “new generation of ‘flying computer’ aircraft and the growing technology across the board is expected to generate approximately 2,000 jobs at Hill” within the next decade.
For starters, the operational F-35 wing at Hill will bring 260 new positions to the 388th Fighter Wing and another 200 positions to the Reserve 419th Fighter Wing, the Air Force has said.
Wright and Sullivan said the F-35 isn’t the only mission at Hill that spells positive economic gains for the state. They point to the the base’s expanding drone work.
The Ogden ALC repairs and modifies the Air Force’s MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The complex also runs a separate maintenance shop that works strictly with the electronic parts for Predator, Reaper and the Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle.
Wright said Hill’s work is coupling with Utah’s commercial drone industry to create more jobs in the state.
Citing a 2013 economic impact study conducted by GOED and the Utah Economic Development Corporation, Wright said Utah can expect the number of private sector jobs associated with drones to grow by 10,000 jobs between now and 2025.
Sullivan said in the private sector, Utah’s aerospace industry employs more than 20,000 people with 105 companies. He said the average wage in the industry is $68,000 per year.