Michigan lawmakers note Wisconsin uproar, urge Selfridge get F-35 jets

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Macomb County would be a welcome home for the Air Force's F-35 jets compared with the controversial reaction the fighter planes are generating in Wisconsin, Michigan's congressional delegation is telling the military.

In a Monday letter to new Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett, 14 of the delegation's 16 members are urging Barrett to select Selfridge Air National Guard Base as one of two locations to host the guard's next mission. And they are noting that one of the Air Force's two "preferred" sites is creating a backlash among some public officials.

In a written statement, the White House said Wednesday that Turkey's decision to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible.

"Selfridge’s outstanding airmen, modern facilities, unique training range and low cost of conversion with no risk to the mission make the 127th Wing an ideal choice for bedding down the F-35A," the letter reads. "Additionally, Macomb County residents and the surrounding community welcome the people and the mission of the Air National Guard."

The lawmakers pointed to recent community opposition to hosting the F-35 mission at Truax Field Air National Guard Base in Wisconsin as well as a resolution passed by the Madison Common Council raising the community's concerns with basing the mission there.

"I am very disappointed in the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard’s failure to provide adequate information about this project and its potential impacts on our community, and their failure to address misconceptions on the record," Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in September following the council's vote.

The main concern is about the noise generated by the fighter jets, an issue that has not arisen around Selfridge. The Air Force needs to provide "better information" on the issue, Rhodes-Conway said.

The draft environmental impact statement "says that flights may increase by 27%, which suggests more noise. The sound study says these new, more powerful planes would only engage in afterburner takeoffs 5% of the time (rather than 60%), which suggests less noise," the mayor wrote in a statement.

In 2017, the Harrison Township base was one of five competing nationally to be the second and third Air National Guard locations for storing, maintaining and training on the F-35A, which is made by Lockheed Martin Corp.

Former Secretary Heather Wilson identified sites in Montgomery, Alabama, and Madison, Wisconsin, as preferred locations for the F-35. At the time, Selfridge was a "reasonable alternative," but was not preferred. 

Macomb County residents welcome a potential F-35 mission and have "consistently offered community support to Selfridge and its tenants," noted the lawmakers, who included Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters; Republican U.S. Reps. Paul Mitchell of Dryden, Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Tim Walberg of Tipton; and Democratic Reps. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, Elissa Slotkin of Holly and Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills.

The delegation members who didn't sign the letter were Reps. Justin Amash, I-Cascade Township, and Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit. 

Selfridge could accommodate the jets with very minor modifications, the lawmakers wrote.

"A decision to beddown the F-35A at Selfridge," the lawmakers wrote, "will deepen Michigan's valuable partnership with the U.S. Air Force."

"The citizens living around Selfridge ANGB have hosted military airfield operations for 100 years and look forward to welcoming future active duty airmen and their families when an active association for the F-35 is established."

A final decision on the two operational base locations is anticipated when the Final Environmental Impact Statement is finished, officials said.