Alaska bases closer to winning F-35 fleet

Alaska’s congressional delegation is welcoming a move by the Air Force that could pave the way for 48 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to be stationed in their state.

The Air Force on Thursday issued a notice saying it would hold three “scoping” meetings in Alaska later this month to help prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. The study will assess whether the service can locate the first two squadrons of the pricey jets at Eielson Air Force Base. The Air Force tapped the base as its preferred site to host the squadrons last year.

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The Defense Department has not confirmed that the planes would be based at Eielson but that didn't stop the state's three-member delegation from applauding the latest move.

“There may never have been a time when America needed Alaska and our military might more than it does right now, with rogue and unpredictable threats emerging to our west -- and I have welcomed all the indications that they are moving forward with their F-35s to Eielson Air Force Base,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP senator: 'Outrageous' to say Trump's tweets about Democratic congresswomen are racist Fox personalities blast Trump's remarks Schumer blisters Republicans over response to Trump tweets: 'Where are you?' MORE (R), chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.

“Over the last few weeks, I have spoken with several senior Air Force leaders, including the Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Welsh, and they all have assured me that Alaska is home to the nation’s largest training ranges, the best airspace, and some of the very best airmen in the Air Force,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The notice is a “giant leap towards bringing the F-35 to the most strategic place in the world -- and with Russia militarizing the Arctic, these F-35s can’t arrive soon enough,” he added.

“With our superior size, diverse landscape, and unique environment, I’ve always said that there’s no better place to house the first generation of F-35 fighters than Alaska. Today’s announcement is another great step to making that a reality,” said Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungGOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz Congress: Pass legislation that invests in America's water future MORE (R).

The F-35 effort, which has cost roughly $400 billion, is the Pentagon's costliest weapons system in history. The current average price tag per jet is about $150 million, according to its manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2016 includes a request for $37 million to build an F-35 flight simulator facility at Eielson that could help prep for arrival of the 48 fighter jets in 2020.

The Air Force’s final basing decision is expected in 2016.