At Eglin, F-35 fighter shaping the future of the military

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The F-35 is a gorilla in the room when it comes to the national defense budget.

Some of the speculation about looming federal budget cuts for the military has focused on Eglin Air Force Base, but Col. Andrew Toth sees a solid 50-year future there for his burgeoning training command.

Toth is executive officer of the Air Force’s 33rd Fighter Wing, the global center for learning to fly and fix the next-generation Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning.

The brand-new jets, $70 million each, are arriving at Eglin regularly — roaring in directly from the factory in Dallas.

“We’re at about 1,000 people in the wing right now — contractors and uniformed personnel,” Toth said.

By 2015, he expects the wing to grow to about 1,600 as a joint command, which includes the Navy and Marine Corps, and to remain at that level.

There are $500 billion in across-the-board defense budget cuts over 10 years scheduled to start in 2013 unless Congress finds a plan to stop them. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense has estimated the total cost of the F-35 program at more than $1 trillion, and there’s plenty of momentum.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.