GREAT FALLS (AP)
A new Air Force report lists the Montana Air National Guard base in Great Falls as a potential site for future jet fighter fleets. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, sent the report this week to members of Congress detailing possible locations for future weapons systems. The report suggests the base at Great Falls International Airport as one of 41 possible sites for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and one of 10 being considered for the F-22 Raptor. The F-35, which is still under development, is designed to replace the aging F-16 fleet beginning in 2013. The F-22, a "stealth" fighter, already is in service. Montana's congressional delegation welcomed the report as an encouraging sign for the state's Air National Guard, but cautioned the Air Force has yet to make a final decision. "It's good to see that the Montana Air National Guard is in the mix," Sen. Jon Tester said. Rep. Denny Rehberg said the report underscored the "critical role" played by the Montana Air National Guard. And Sen. Max Baucus called the report "encouraging for Great Falls and our entire state." The report did not provide a timeline for selecting final sites for the fleets. According to the Air Force, potential sites that meet the service's requirements will undergo environmental reviews that could take several years. The Great Falls base currently is replacing its F-16s to a new fleet of 18 F-15s. It was uncertain if those would remain in Montana or be replaced if the state is chosen for either the F-35 or F-22.