Air Force training center could add up to $1 billion to Arkansas' economy

New base can expect its first aircraft for the mission in September 2024.
The emblem of the U.S. Air Force

Arkansas will see up to a billion dollars in economic impact from the new Foreign Military Sales Pilot Training Center at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday.

Sanders gathered with lawmakers and military leaders at Ebbing to celebrate after Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall officially signed the decision to locate the training center at Fort Smith.

The U.S. Air Force selected Ebbing in March. The pilot training center will bring military personnel from allied nations worldwide to train with the fifth-generation fighter

“Arkansas has long been the training ground for some of America’s very best pilots and air personnel, and today we are taking that global,” Sanders said. “Soon Ebbing Air National Base will be home to 36 state-of-the-art aircraft and 1,200 new base staff. We’ll host airmen from as far away as Europe and Singapore.”

Col. Robert Ator, the Director of Military Affairs for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said the base can expect its first aircraft for the mission in Sept. 2024.

“I will tell you that this story is an incredible one of a community and a state coming together to achieve what we thought was a bridge too far," Ator said. "And we’re going to benefit greatly from this, but I don’t want anyone here to think that it’s time to spike the football. We have a mountain to climb to be able to be in a position to receive these jets."

Sen. John Boozman said he and the rest of the Arkansas congressional delegation are committed to resourcing the project.

“As we work with the Air Force over the next year and into the future, our goal is to build Ebbing into one of the premiere training facilities in the country. We’re all working to ensure it is ready to deliver on-time training that meets national and global security needs,” said Boozman.

The governor said the project has been in the works for nearly three years and received high public support.

“What’s truly astonishing about this project is its speed and seamlessness through which it came into being. The fastest environmental impact study in Air Force history, rapid financial help from the state, from the county, and the city. Zero negative comments in the public comment period. And as somebody who has been a part of a lot of public comments, it’s pretty spectacular that you can have anything with zero negative comments,” Sanders said.

She said she believes the project will have a long-lasting impact on Arkansas.

“This will be a generational impact on our state, and it puts Fort Smith right at the center of America’s global defense infrastructure,” the governor said.