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Whidbey to get double the P-8As, congressman announces

A P-8A Poseidon takes off. Congressman Rick Larsen announced Friday that the Navy is planning to increase the number of P-8As destined for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station from 24 to 49. - Contributed photo
A P-8A Poseidon takes off. Congressman Rick Larsen announced Friday that the Navy is planning to increase the number of P-8As destined for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station from 24 to 49.
— image credit: Contributed photo

The Navy this week said it plans to more than double the number of P-8A Poseidons destined for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

Instead of the planned 24 planes, the Navy will station 49 of the sub-hunting jets at the NAS Whidbey, said U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a Second District Democrat.

“If there was any lingering concern about the future of our naval bases, this news will lay it to rest,” said Larsen. “I have worked for over a decade with local leaders to make the case to the Navy why Northwest Washington is the best place to base these assets.”

“The Navy clearly agrees.”

Larsen was briefed Friday morning on the Navy’s strategic lay down plan for 2013-20, which outlines the change.

Despite the congressman’s press release, distributed shortly before press time, news of the Navy’s announcement had not yet filtered down the channels to air station officials.

Mike Welding, base public information officer, said he could not comment on the details of what this will mean for the air station, Oak Harbor or Island County until official confirmation is received.

Base commander Capt. Mike Nortier was out of town Friday and not available for comment but Capt. Christopher Phillips, acting base commander, said that it would be "great for the base and the local Whidbey Island community" if the congressman's announcement is true.

The news is not entirely unexpected as the Navy announced in November it was studying three possibilities for increasing the number of Poseidons to be stationed at Whidbey Island.

Larsen said that study is not yet complete, but the plan is make the base home to seven squadrons.The additional aircraft will come from a canceled plan to base three fleet squadrons in Hawaii.

“The additional basing of P-8As makes Naval Air Station Whidbey Island the preeminent maritime patrol, electronic warfare and surveillance site in the Pacific,” Larsen said in his press release.

“The additional P-8As will bring hundreds of new military families and will create hundreds of local jobs in the next few years as the base constructs new facilities.”

The P-8A Poseidon is based on the 737-800 airframe and is Navy’s planned replacement for the aged turbo-prop P-3C Orions.

Larry Munns, a former base commander and husband of Oak Harbor Councilwoman Beth Munns, said this is indeed big news for the both the base and the community.

“It’s tremendous,” he said.

The Navy’s placement of so many assets at the base are a clear statement about the strategic value and importance of the base, he said.

Also, these are deployable planes, which means they won’t all be on Whidbey at the same time, but the families of the servicemen and women who fly and work on them will be here year round.

“It will mean more families and more people (at the base and in the community),” Larry Munns said. “That’s good news for everybody.”

Kathy Reed, executive director of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, agrees that the additional squadrons and their families will have wide-ranging impacts on both the city and Island County.

“It’s going to have an impact on our schools, it’s going to have an impact on our businesses, on employees and employers but it’s a good impact,” she said.

“These are good challenges because it represents growth, at least that’s what I think.”

Larsen said the Navy also announced plans to accelerate future basing of destroyers at Naval Station Everett. Three frigates are being retired in the next few years and rescheduling of their replacements means there will be seamless transition.

The Navy confirmed it will keep the USS Nimitz homeported at Naval Station Everett through at least 2020.

The first two squadrons of P-8As arrive at NAS Whidbey in 2015. Another will follow in 2016, three more in 2017 and the last in 2018.

 

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