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Air Force considers Selfridge to host international F-35 training center

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The Air Force is expected to decide soon on where to establish an international F-35 training center, and Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township is among five candidates under consideration.

Under the plan, the Air Force would house up to 36 F-35s at the base while the service trains international student pilots and support personnel from Singapore, Poland, Finland and Switzerland, said Phillip Ulmer, spokesman for the 127th Wing at Selfridge. Those nations would be purchasing the aircraft from the U.S. military.

The Air Force is expected to decide soon on where to establish an international F-35 training center, and Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township is among five candidates under consideration.

Other bases in the running to host the foreign military sales training center include Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado; Fort Smith Regional Airport in Arkansas; Hulman Field in Indiana; and Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas.

If Selfridge is chosen, the first contingent would involve about 150 families from Singapore moving to Michigan and living in the community, with pilots rotating out for training, Ulmer said.

The Singapore group would at first relocate its F-16 training unit from Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix to the new international training center in 2023, with the intention of swapping out those aircraft for the F-35 in a couple years, Ulmer said. 

A delegation from the Singapore Air Force visited Selfridge in late March to tour the base, he added, and met with Michigan Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers and Air National Guard Commander Brig. Gen. Bryan Teff, as well as local officials. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the group by Zoom, Ulmer said. 

Michigan lawmakers in Congress have written to Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth, urging him to select Selfridge for the international training center. 

Ten House lawmakers wrote to Roth last week, led by Republican Rep. Lisa McClain, whose district includes Selfridge and who sits on the Armed Services Committee. 

"Selfridge has untapped potential, and having Singapore train its pilots there would be fantastic for Singapore, Selfridge, the 10th Congressional District, Michigan and the United States," said McClain, R-Bruce Township. 

The House members' letter said Selfridge would be able to house and operate up to 24 F-35 aircraft immediately, "with plenty of unused space on the premises to expand and house additional aircraft." 

Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph; Tim Walberg, R-Tipton; Bill Huizenga, R-Holland; Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield; John Moolenaar, R-Midland; Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet; Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township; and Peter Meijer; R-Grand Rapids Township also signed the letter.

Sen. Gary Peters, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has held conversations with defense officials in support of Selfridge's selection, including a March phone call with Roth, according to his office. 

Peters, a Bloomfield Township Democrat, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, led 13 Michigan House members in writing to Roth in March in support of Selfridge as the preferred location for the F-35 foreign military sales center and Singapore's F-16 training operations. 

They stressed that the base could accommodate both missions "at minimal cost, with minimal facility modifications," and that Michigan has "optimal" weather.

The senators also noted that Michigan has the largest contiguous joint overland service range east of the Mississippi River and other resources for training, including Alpena's Special Use Airspace Complex. 

The lawmakers noted that the Air Force already completed a recent environmental impact study for the bed-down of up to 18 F-35As at Selfridge, which would save time and costs.

The study was done because Selfridge, which currently hosts A-10 fighter and KC-135 tanker missions, in 2017 was in the running to store and maintain the F-35A, which is made by Lockheed Martin Corp. Selfridge wasn't selected by the Air Force for that mission.