Selfridge makes pitch to house F-35 aircraft

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Harrison Township – Selfridge Air National Guard Base is hosting 40 representatives of the U.S. Air Force this week in hopes of being selected as the home for a new aircraft.

The Macomb County base, which houses personnel from all branches of the U.S. military and Homeland Security, is one of five bases nationally competing to house the F-35 Lightning II aircraft, which will replace the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the Air Force’s primary fighter aircraft for more than 20 years.

Selfridge has a Thunderbolt squadron of 18 aircraft, which would be phased out with the new F-35, the Air Force’s choice for future training and missions. The Air Force group is evaluating Selfridge’s capabilities.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Brig. Gen. John Slocum talked about the visit, which both agreed has potential for a positive impact – not just for the base but for Macomb County and the state.

“This would be huge,” said Hackel, sporting a fire-engine red baseball jersey with “Selfridge” in script on the front and “Hackel” and “127” for the base’s 127th Wing designation on the back of his shirt.

“I can’t tell you exactly in dollars but the impact would be like a new company coming to Macomb County for every new aircraft,” he said. “The multiplying factor – related businesses, education and training opportunities – would draw new businesses here,” he said.

Hackel said housing the new aircraft – which cost about $100 million each – would solidify Selfridge against any future closure discussions.

Slocum said Selfridge, Macomb County and Michigan create a great fit for a new generation of aircraft. He said Michigan has unmatched training capability over land, with Camp Grayling, and over water, with access to Lake St. Clair and the Great Lakes.

“We are celebrating our 100th year this year at Selfridge and this could well take us into the next 100 years,” Slocum said.

Slocum said a decision by the Air Force group is expected later this summer or fall and the timeline for having the aircraft in place is 2022-23.

Officials distributed copies of a glossy, multicolored magazine, “The Selfridge Advantage,” which also was presented to the Air Force group. The 139-page magazine touts the many reasons it should be selected.

The Michigan Defense Center of Sterling Heights, part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, provided the Air Force with a study highlighting reasons Selfridge deserves to be one of the two bases that will ultimately share the work for the F-35. Among them:

■Detroit has nearly six times the number of defense sector jobs than the rest of the competition combined.

■Detroit meets 73 percent of its defense sector demand locally. Competing locations on average can only meet 20 percent.

■The Detroit region offers a highly trained workforce with a higher degree of qualifications and mission readiness than the competing regions.

■Detroit has the necessary trained talent, whereas competitors will experience a labor shortage.

■Detroit is ready to go: With nearly $2 billion annually, Detroit fulfills 33 percent more defense contracts than the closest rival.

■Detroit values its veterans: With 32 percent more veterans than the competition, Detroit has a more developed workforce with the required experience to service the defense sector.

Other finalists that have already been visited by the Air Force group 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.

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