Macomb's Selfridge base snubbed on F-35 aircraft

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Washington — The Trump administration is deploying F-35 aircraft to Truax Field Air National Guard Base in Madison, Wisconsin, snubbing the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township.

Democrats and Republicans in Michigan's congressional delegation have been heavily lobbying for years to get the F-35 planes sited at Selfridge to replace the aging Warthogs at the base, but the Trump administration's decision to send the planes to Madison was announced Wednesday by the Wisconsin Department of Military. 

“The Department of the Air Force selected the 115th Fighter Wing and the 187th Fighter Wing as the next Air National Guard locations to receive the F-35A,” Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett  said in a Wednesday statement. “Putting F-35s at these two bases continues our transition into the next generation of air superiority.”

Each F-35 Lightning II fighter jet requires more than 900 pounds of rare-earth materials

Trump said in late January his administration was giving "strong consideration" to deploying F-35 aircraft to Selfridge Air National Guard Base. The president made the comment during a speech at Dana Inc.'s Warren plant that focused on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Selfridge could be seeing "a lot of very fast planes," he said during the speech.  

Michigan officials expressed disappointment in the Trump administration's decision to pass over Selfridge. 

“I spoke with Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett. While I am disappointed Selfridge was not selected for conversion this round, I appreciate her commitment to the A-10 mission at Selfridge," U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said in a statement. "I will continue working with the Air Force, local officials including County Executive Hackel, and the Michigan Congressional delegation to highlight why the 127th Wing at Selfridge is an ideal choice to host future F-35 missions.”  

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, a Republican and former U.S. House member, added: “We are disappointed at the news that Selfridge Air National Guard Base was not selected as an F-35 base. For those of us who personally know the airmen, the base and the leadership team in place at Selfridge, we are confident that the base is well positioned to be selected for the next round of F-35 basing or other critical future missions.”

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel defended the effort to win the selection of the F-35 for the Selfridge base and expressed optimism about landing a future deployment of the fighters. 

"If you look at the actual plans that were submitted, there's no question Selfridge was far superior, when you talk about strategic deployment, economic advantage as well as community support," Hackel said in a video response.

"Albeit it wasn't selected this time, we have a feeling somewhere in the near future we may see F-35s," he said. "But make no mistake about it, just based upon this process, I think people now recognize Selfridge is an incredible asset to our nation."  

The debate of the location of F-35 goes back at least three years. In 2017, the U.S. Air Force announced Selfridge was not selected at that point to host one of the next two units of F-35A fighter aircraft.

The Air Force said then Selfridge and the other two finalists — Gowen Field Air National Guard Base in Idaho and Jacksonville Air Guard Station in Florida — were “reasonable alternatives” but not preferred.

At the time, lawmakers said Selfridge still could be a candidate for future conversion to the F-35 mission.

In November 2019, 14 members of Michigan's congressional delegation asked the Air Force in a letter to select Selfridge as one of the locations to host the Air National Guard’s next F-35 operational base.

The jockeying for the fighter jet played out against a backdrop of a presidential election in which Wisconsin and Michigan are likely to be critical swing states. Trump carried both states in his 2016 victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Democrats are now planning to hold their nominating convention for former Vice President Joe Biden in Milwaukee.

Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes and Michigan's 16 are likely to be crucial to the November election for Trump and Biden. If Trump wins Wisconsin and Biden flips Michigan and Pennsylvania and the rest of the map stays the same as 2016, Trump would win re-election by a slim margin.

Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed.