BY RACHEL NAPOLITAN, Alaska District
In April 2016, the U.S. Air Force announced the selection of Eielson Air Force Base as the future home for two F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft squadrons, a total of 54 jets. To support the stationing of these aircraft, along with an estimated 1,500 airmen and women and their families, everything from airplane hangars and maintenance facilities to a dining hall and a school-age center needed to be engineered and constructed in the four-year period leading up to the scheduled arrival.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Alaska District partnered with the 354th Fighter Wing to provide critical engineering solutions for the delivery of essential infrastructure. The district assigned a field team of nearly 20 personnel to oversee construction activities and monitor the progress of work on base, while other USACE employees supported the effort remotely.
“The stationing of these aircraft is a significant operational change in the mission focus for Eielson Air Force Base, and it would not be possible without the critical infrastructure improvements and facilities constructed under this program,” said Maj. Nathan Tarter, officer in charge of the F-35A program for the district.
As the United States invests greater focus on strengthening stability and security in the Indo-Asia Pacific region, the importance of Alaska as a strategic military location continues to increase. By delivering world-class facilities that are built to last, the Alaska District is helping to expand Air Force capabilities and advance U.S. interests within the region.
“Once Eielson’s F-35 bed-down is complete, the state of Alaska will have the highest concentration of combat-coded, fifth-generation aircraft anywhere in the Department of Defense,” said Staff Sgt. Zade Vadnais of the 354th Fighter Wing’s Public Affairs Office. “With tanker support, Eielson’s strategic location at the top of the globe puts our pilots just one fighter sortie away from any target in the northern hemisphere, making Alaska an ideal hub for fifth-generation fighter operations.”
With responsibility for 19 congressionally authorized construction projects associated with the F-35A bed-down program, the district is building facilities that support warrior readiness, training, and quality of life. As of December 2020, 13 projects are substantially complete, four are in construction, and two are awaiting contract awards.
Instead of awarding one large contract as districts have approached programs of this size in the past, the contracting team sought ways to maximize the opportunity for construction companies of various sizes to bid on work.
“We did a lot to support small businesses in the state by awarding many of the smaller contracts to them, something we could do by creating separate contracts for each project instead [of] one large contract,” said Michelle Mandel, chief of the military branch for the district’s Contracting Division.
In total, construction activity associated with the siting of the F-35A in Alaska is expected to generate $453.4 million in economic output and create an estimated 2,339 new jobs, according to the record of decision for the Air Force’s environmental impact statement published in April 2016.
The Alaska District awarded the program’s first contract eight months after the announcement of the base as the new home for the F-35A fighter jet: a flight simulator center to support training requirements of the airmen. But just because work started quickly does not mean engineering the facilities was an easy undertaking.
“The F-35A program faced a variety of challenges,” Tarter said. “This was a complicated weapon system bed-down executed in a remote location. The program faced extreme climate, industry challenges for availability of personnel and equipment resulting from the remote location, and known soil contamination.”
As a military installation dating back to the Word War II era, Eielson was designated as a federal superfund site in 1989. Taking into account possible soil contamination issues at the F-35 project sites, the team used historical records and scope-of-work sampling prior to contract selection. This work allowed accurate timelines and costs for each project.
Meanwhile, using creative solutions such as building a tent over a construction site to allow concrete to be laid at a temperature of minus 25 degrees, the district found ways to overcome adversity and prevent delays in the construction schedule.
“Building in interior Alaska is a unique situation,” Mandel said. “We tried to award contracts so building started first thing in spring and projects could be enclosed by the time the cold weather started to keep costs down.”
Cognizant of the extreme weather conditions in a subarctic climate, the district built two four-bay hangars and two 16-bay weather shelters as part of the crucial infrastructure needed to house the aircraft on base. These facilities keep the jets safe in Alaskan winters, when temperatures can reach lows of minus 60 degrees, and in Alaskan summers, when temperatures can reach into the 90s.
The team also worked alongside USACE’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory to address permafrost issues. Solutions included thawing the ground to provide a stable foundation at one construction site, while installing a passive cooling system beneath the building at another project to prevent facility heat from thawing the ground over time.
While the team busily worked through the hurdles of location and climate in preparation for the arrival of the first aircraft squadron in April 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Every project associated with the bed-down program faced some form of COVID-19-related delay,” Tarter said. “Crews were out of state, workers faced childcare challenges, and material suppliers’ factories shut down. Specialty equipment installations also experienced setbacks, as inspectors from out of state could not come to inspect the equipment.”
As a cooperative effort between contractors and the Alaska District, mitigation of all issues that arose from COVID-19 occurred at the field level through creative methods to reach the contracts’ intent without a loss of mission capability or a slip in overall program schedule.
On April 21, the Alaska District team was proud to see the first F-35As arrive, representing four years of work coming to fruition and the beginning of a journey for those at Eielson.
“The arrival of the first aircraft was an awesome event that truly demonstrated the importance of our work,” Tarter said. “The level of combat power that can be projected because of the work of this team is awe-inspiring, and was a proud moment for the whole team.”
This article appears in the 2020-2021 edition of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Building Strong®, Serving the Nation and the Armed Forces
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Pacific Ocean Division (POD):
• Integrates and employs engineer capabilities to deliver revolutionary solutions that promote security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region and protect the nation, through the resilient workforce of USACE’s four engineer districts – Alaska, Far East, Honolulu, and Japan – located across the U.S. Indo- Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) and U.S. Northern Command areas of responsibility.
• Operates in a complex and diverse region that encompasses the largest area of division responsibility within USACE:
• Spans 16 time zones;
• Covers 52% of the Earth’s surface and includes half of the world’s population; and
• Includes the four most-populous nations, two largest democracies, seven of the world’s 10 largest armies, and five of seven U.S. mutual defense treaties.
• Enables basing, force projection, protection, and sustainment by providing Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps forces and Department of Defense (DOD) agencies the infrastructure to operate effectively, sustain readiness, and enhance quality of life. POD is responsible for three of the four largest military/host-nation construction programs since the end of the Cold War, totaling nearly $28 billion:
• The $10.7 billion, multiyear, massive Korea Relocation Program includes the construction of 655 new and renovated facilities, which will enable the relocation of approximately 12,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea to U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in support of the United States-Republic of Korea Alliance;
• A multibillion-dollar, multiyear U.S.-Japan Defense Policy Review Initiative resulting in the rebuilding of 77% of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni;
• The Okinawa Consolidation and Futenma Replacement Facility’s scope of work includes 400 projects, which will reduce the U.S. military’s footprint in Okinawa. These projects highlight the nation’s commitment to the U.S.- Japan Alliance; and
• Hosts meetings and conferences with U.S. military service components and Japanese Alliance partners to adapt processes to improve construction, address acceptable unified facilities criteria alternatives, and develop an improved framework to better manage project planning in Japan.
• Strengthens relationships and builds partner capacity and all-hazards response through disaster risk management, technical engineering, water security, humanitarian assistance, and Foreign Military Sales activities. POD works closely with INDOPACOM, U.S. Army Pacific, and its interagency partners in a “whole of government” approach to train and develop local leaders, engineers, and organizations, while conducting general engineering tasks with its partners so that they may effectively protect and govern their citizens:
• Conducted more than 400 partner-capacity building activities in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region since 2012, sharing best practices and lessons learned; providing subject-matter expert exchanges; enhancing trust and communication; and enabling alliances and partnerships;
• Delivered more than 300 INDOPACOM humanitarian assistance (HA) “brick and mortar” construction projects, such as schools, clinics, blood banks, wells, and emergency shelters since 2007;
• Currently managing nearly 44 INDOPACOM HA construction projects in eight countries; and
• Executed or is planning 70-plus capacity-building engagements and activities in 16 countries during FY 2019.
• Executes integrated water resource management in Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. territories of Guam and American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. POD delivers enduring and essential water resources solutions and infrastructure, which includes navigation (deep-water commercial ports, small boat harbors, and harbors of refuge); flood and coastal risk management; and aquatic ecosystem restoration:
• Maintains 89 harbors to ensure safe and efficient operations, enabling more that 65 million tons of cargo to pass annually in Alaska and Hawaii – locations that are highly dependent on commercial and subsistence navigation. Anchorage Harbor is designated as one of only 19 DOD strategic seaports; and
• Maintains 273,600 square miles of wetlands, about 7,390 miles of coastlines, 34,960 miles of tidal coastlands, and 89 ports or small boat harbors in its area of responsibility.
• Delivers results as the nation’s environmental engineers:
• Protects the nation’s aquatic resources, while allowing reasonable development through fair, flexible, and balanced permit decisions. Notably, the state of Hawaii is ranked first in the nation with 454 listings of endangered species;
• Processed more than 4,500 Regulatory Program actions during FY 2020, while balancing reasonable development with protection of the waters of the United States; and
• Protects the public and restores the environment through the Defense Environmental Restoration Program for Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) in Alaska and Hawaii, with an approximate amount of more than 180 projects and more than $58 million in clean-up actions during FY 2020. One example is the Waikoloa site on the island of Hawaii, where more than 29,000 acres of this 123,000-plus-acre site have been cleared of more than 2,400 munitions and explosives of concern. This is the largest active FUDS site nationwide.
• Supports the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the National Response Framework, with engineering resources for disaster response and the recovery of public works and critical infrastructure in a region where 80% of the world’s natural disasters occur.
• Depends on a diverse and exceptional blend of all engineering and support competencies from its 1,600-member POD team of active-duty military, U.S. and host-nation civilian engineers, scientists, and support staff to accomplish its mission. The strength and foundation of the Pacific Ocean Division is the agile, adaptive leaders and workforce who adopt revolutionary approaches while empowering team members to accomplish the mission.
PACIFIC OCEAN DIVISION
Building 525 Fort Shafter, HI 96858-5440
P.O. Box 6898 Anchorage, AK 99506-0898
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FAR EAST DISTRICT
USAEDFE CEPOF-PA Unit 15546 APO AP 96271
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Building 230, Room 302 Fort Shafter, HI 96858-5440
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Unit 45010 APO AP 96-338-5010