Barnes Air National Guard Base prepares for new fighter jets, awaits Pentagon decision
WESTFIELD, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — The two new fighter jets being considered for the Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing — the F-35 and F-15EX — are facing headwinds in Washington as the base at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport in Massachusetts is preparing environmental impact studies for one or more of the aircraft.
For the past two years, the 104th has been under evaluation by the Air Force to receive new fighter jets to replace its aging fleet of 21 F-15C Eagle aircraft.
Christopher J. Willenborg, director of the civilian side of the airport, and U.S. Representative Richard E. Neal’s office, D-Springfield, say they expect news from the Pentagon this month or June.
The National Guard, meanwhile, will say only that it is committed to keeping its aircraft inventory current and in line with the rest of the Air Force, according to a statement released by the office of the National Guard. Adjutant General of the State, Major General. Gary Keefe.
The 104th – with its 1,000 part-time traditional guards and approximately 500 full-time members – was found to be best suited to the F-35 or F-15EX platforms during a recent site survey. , the state-level command said. late last week.
The Barnes unit and its F-15C Eagles are part of Air Combat Command with a mission that includes homeland security and the defense of the Northeastern United States. Its pilots and planes have a 24/7 alert mission.
“The base is perfectly located to be fully aligned with the national defense strategy’s number one priority of defending the homeland. Barnes Aerospace Alert fighters are the only air defense for the 40 million Americans living in New England and New York,” the state command said in its statement.
Regarding the potential location of new aircraft, the 104th is also preparing formal environmental impact statements in accordance with federal National Environmental Policy law for both aircraft, Willenborg said. These statements take into account all environmental concerns, including noise pollution.
He said the community should expect public meetings on environmental impacts some time after a Pentagon announcement, either late this year or early 2023.
Noise has been a particular concern at Barnes in the past as the unit transitioned through aircraft. In Vermont, F-35s generated new noise complaints after being assigned to the National Guard in Burlington.
Barnes Guard Base will also need, whatever planes it receives, an upgraded high security entry gate. A $4.5 million project is underway to build one off Southampton Road along Routes 10 and 202 near the intersection with Servistar Industrial Way. This project is in the design stage, according to the state Department of Transportation. The project would include intersection and sidewalk improvements.
In recent weeks, problems have been reported with the F-15EX and F-35 programs. Defense-focused media reported that some members of the Air Force wanted to cancel the F-15EX program in favor of buying more F-35s. The fiscal year 2022 budget calls for 24 F-15EX aircraft with a total value of $1.4 billion.
Meanwhile, the General Accounting Office released a report on the F-35 in late April indicating that the introduction of these aircraft was going both too fast and too slow.
Operational testing of the F-35 continues to be delayed – mainly by delays in the development of an aircraft simulator – even as the Department of Defense moves forward with the purchase of up to 152 planes per year, according to a report published on April 25. planes produced before testing is complete, the more it could cost to upgrade those planes if problems are discovered.
If the Department of Defense moves forward as planned, it will have purchased a third of all F-35s before it determines the plane is ready for full-scale production, the General Accounting Office said.
The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing two weeks ago on the Air Force budget request for fiscal year 2023. Also in Washington, the House Air and Ground Forces Tactical Subcommittee held a hearing specifically on the tactical aircraft and fixed-wing trainer programs.
According to the Air Force, the service’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposal included funding to purchase 33 F-35A Lightning II fighters and 24 F-15EX Eagle II fighters along with 15 KC-46A Pegasus tankers, between other material requests.
At the state level, State Sen. John C. Velis, D-Westfield, said through a spokesman that he is still seeking to pass two laws that would help Westfield and other military bases in the Bay State to attract Pentagon money. The laws would help military families get access to school and help military spouses get Massachusetts professional licenses, and therefore jobs, faster.
The Pentagon researches state laws like this before committing dollars and military personnel, said Velis, himself a member of the U.S. Army Reserve.
The SPEED Act, S2559, passed the state Senate and remains on the House Ways and Means Committee. A related bill introduced by Governor Charlie Baker, Senate Bill 2542, remains in the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.
The Air Force commitment means a lot to Barnes, where military use ensures there is a staffed air traffic control tower and money for construction, including a recent track project circulation of $4.7 million.
The state also funded a $9 million runway resurfacing in 2014 and nearly $1 million in fuel efficiency improvements in 2015.
Barnes, a combined civilian and military facility, has a total economic impact of $236.8 million, according to the airport authority. The total number of jobs, civilian and military, exceeds 2,100.
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