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Air Force: Selfridge base a finalist for F-35A fighters

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau
There are 21 A-10 attack planes at Selfridge, and operations related to the jet support 180 full-time jobs and nearly 300 part-time jobs there. The military has said replacing the A-10 fleet with the F-35 joint strike fighter would save more than $4.7 billion.

Washington — The Air Force said Wednesday that Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township is among five bases being considered to host the next two Air National Guard F-35A fighter aircraft units.

The other candidates are Dannelly Field Air Guard Station in Montgomery, Alabama; Gowen Field Air Guard Station in Boise, Idaho; Jacksonville Air Guard Station in Florida; and Truax Air Guard Station in Madison, Wisconsin.

A selection of Selfridge could be a lifeline for the base, which will ultimately be affected by the Air Force’s planned retirement of the A-10 Thunderbolt fleet in the 2020s.

If selected, the F-35 could replace the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft now assigned to the Selfridge base and flown by the 107th Fighter Squadron of the Michigan Air National Guard.

“We are confident that we have made a very strong case that it is in the best interest of the nation to locate the F-35 at Selfridge,” said Maj. Gen. Gregory J. Vadnais, the adjutant general of Michigan.

Operations related to the A-10s support 180 full-time jobs and nearly 450 part-time jobs at Selfridge. The military has said replacing the A-10 fleet with the F-35 joint strike fighter would save more than $4.7 billion.

“We’re excited about this initial selection. Selfridge clearly represents the first, best choice to house the world’s most advanced multi-role fighter,” said Brig. Gen. John Slocum, commander of the 127th Wing at Selfridge.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in February that the Air Force would push back retiring the A-10s, also known as the warthogs, until 2022, replacing it with F-35 Joint Strike Fighters on a squadron-by-squadron basis.

Retirement of the A-10s was delayed in part because of their high demand by military commanders in the air campaign against the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said the F-35 is the state-of-the-art, universal aircraft used by all of the military branches — the Air Force, Marines and Army.

“That’s a front line, combat aircraft and to have that at Selfridge would be a very important development for the Michigan Air National Guard and really something we would celebrate,” Peters said. “It would put the Michigan Air National Guard at the tip of the spear for the Department of Defense.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, agreed. “There is no question that Selfridge Air National Guard Base is the right choice for the new F-35 platform,” Stabenow said.

Retiring Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, said the Air Force’s consideration of Selfridge demonstrates that the military is committed to those serving there, and “I am confident that they will find Selfridge a prime location for the F-35 unit.”

The Air Force said it will next conduct ground surveys at each base to assess each against operational requirements, potential impacts to existing missions, infrastructure and manpower, and develop cost estimates. A list of preferred sites is expected by spring 2017, followed by an environmental impact study, according to Air Force officials.

“The Air Force is committed to a deliberate and open process to address F-35 basing,” Jennifer A. Miller, deputy assistant secretary of installations for the Air Force, said in a statement.

“As we progress through the basing process, we will share information so interested communities are aware of what to expect.”

A government audit in August faulted the Air Force for failing to identify all of the risks posed by eliminating the A-10 fleet, recommending the military develop reliable cost estimates of potential savings before again proposing divestment of the fleet.

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