Poland is expected to become the first foreign country to have its F-35 pilots train at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith, the Arkansas Business reported.
Officials at Ebbing told the outlet they are waiting for an environmental impact study and public comment phase before a final decision in early spring of 2023.
Once approved, the first Polish pilots are scheduled to arrive in 2024.
Foreign Military Sales Program
The soon-to-be training in Ebbing is part of the US Foreign Military Sales program.
Under the program, foreign countries are allowed to purchase F-35 jets manufactured by Lockheed Martin and then be trained at a US base.
Poland bought 32 of the jets in 2019 in a deal worth more than $6 billion.
Col. Jeremiah Gentry, commander of the 188th Fighter Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard at Ebbing, told Arkansas Business the Department of Defense vets international partners with military capability.
“When we sell them to them they don’t immediately know how to fly it. So we train them how to fly it,” he explained.
“Think of this as driver’s ed for an F-35. Our pilots are the ones flying and teaching them how to fly the equipment that they procured before they take it back to their home country.”
Boon to Fort Smith
Once finalized, the training program is expected to contribute to the city of Fort Smith’s economy.
City Administrator Carl Geffken told Arkansas Business 1,000 people may move to the area to participate or support the new mission, which may potentially generate as much as $1 billion in economic activity.
Ebbing will also receive a multi-million dollar makeover for the renovation of some facilities. The work will take place once the base gets the award for the mission.