CLEARFIELD -- The future viability of Hill Air Force Base could hinge on the work being done by an aerospace manufacturer just a few miles down the road.
On Wednesday, ATK celebrated the completion of its 150th wing skin for the F-35 Lightning II, the 5th generation, international, multi-role fighter aircraft that will serve as the replacement to the F-16.
During an event held in ATK's Aerospace Structures facility in Clearfield's Freeport Center, Lockheed Martin and ATK officials and members of Utah's Congressional Delegation highlighted ATK's work on the F-35, as well as the fighter's role in protecting national security and the program's economic impact across the U.S. and within Utah.
"The work being done right here at this facility plays a huge role in Hill Air Force Base's future," said Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. "The F-35 is the future of the base and the work that is going on here is essential to the jet's success."
ATK manufactures several composite structures for the F-35 at the company's Clearfield facility, including upper and lower wing skins, straps, engines nacelles, covers and inlet ducts.
Hill is listed as the Air Force's preferred alternative for the location of the first two operational squadrons of the jet and a possible third squadron.
The move would bring 72 new jets to the base. Hill currently has two F-16 squadrons and 48 jets.
Hill also provides modification and maintenance support on the F-35.
Both Hatch and Utah Congressman Rob Bishop said F-35s at Hill would help secure future workloads at the base.
"The F-35 at Hill, with both the maintenance and the operational wings, helps Hill be more viable if there is ever anything like a BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure Commission)," Bishop said. "And you just never know when something like that may come along."
Hatch said he believes Hill is in a good position should another round of BRAC come along, but the F-35 squadrons put the base in a class above the rest.
"(BRAC) is always a concern," the senator said. "Let's just say I've been in the Senate for 37 years, and there hasn't been a year when I haven't had to make sure Hill was in good shape. But with the F-35, we're in a great spot."
While the discussion at Wednesday's event centered around Hill, officials also lauded the F-35's economic impact.
Bob Delaney, an executive at F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin, said there are more than 1,000 jobs associated with the jet in Utah, creating an $80 million economic impact. Nationwide, Delaney said, there are more than 125,000 jobs associated with the F-35.
The Air Force expects the F-35 to reach the stage of "initial operation capability" by December 2016.