Report: Macomb best place to put F-35 fighter jets

Jonathan Oosting, Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Mackinac Island — Macomb County is the best spot in the nation to host next-generation F-35 fighter jets, according to a new report touted by local and state officials pushing the U.S. Air Force to choose the Selfridge base over four other finalists.

County Executive Mark Hackel announced the findings Tuesday at the Mackinac Policy Conference, saying that landing the F-35 would guarantee continued operations at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township for at least another 30 years and provide a major boost for the local economy.

Selfridge currently relies on hosting 18 A-10 attack planes, known as Warthogs, which the air Force plans to keep flying for the foreseeable future. But Hackel said the base also needs a new fighter plane like the F-35 to ensure its future.

The report, commissioned by the state’s Michigan Defense Center, concludes that Metro Detroit has the experienced workforce needed to “bed down” the aircraft and the capacity to support the F-35 mission.

Metro Detroit already has nearly six times as many jobs as the four other regions under consideration by the Air Force, and the region fulfills 73 percent of its defense-sector contracts through local sources, according to the report.

“We are the defense capital,” Hackel said at a press event, where he was joined by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Selfridge Air National Guard Base Commander John Slocum.

“If you look at not only the industry, the talented workforce and the veterans we have available, no other competing site can even come close to what we have from an economic perspective.”

Hackel is heavily lobbying for Macomb County to land the F-35 and making the case to residents for why housing the aircraft at Selfridge would benefit the region. He put up two billboards on Interstate 75 south of Mackinaw City, highlighting a website for motorist driving up to the policy conference.

The Air Force announced Selfridge as a finalist for the new f-35 Lightening IIs in December and is expected to select two sites by late July or August. The jets are expected to arrive at the selected bases “in the early to mid-2020s,” an Air Force statement said in December.

If the Air Force does not pick Selfridge for the F-35, Hackel said, it will only be “because of politics or something else that I’m not aware of.”

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.

Peters, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he believes Selfridge was in the top two for the finalist announcement and just “needs to stay there” as the decision process nears conclusion.

“This is important for us in Michigan to be the tip of the spear for national security by having F-35s located in Michigan,” Peters said, “and it really enhances our ability to be the focus for advanced technologies, whether it’s in land systems or air systems.”

The fifth-generation F-35 is a “state of the art” aircraft that is hard to detect by enemies and has advanced sensors so it can see better, Slocum said.

Michigan also has plentiful airspace at Camp Grayling and over Lake Huron that make it a natural fit for the F-35, Slocum said.

“One-hundred percent of training for the F-35 can be bone in this training airspace in Michigan, and nobody else can say that,” Slocum told reporters.