The US Air Force has selected a site in Arkansas based on Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township and three other candidates for its future F-35 International Training Center.
Fort Smith Regional Airport has been tentatively chosen to 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. These countries would buy the plane from the US military.
The decision sparked a storm of criticism on Thursday from both US senators from Michigan and a key local official. The Air Force said it expects to make a final decision in the spring of 2023, adding that Selfridge is the back-up site if an environmental impact assessment reveals the Arkansas site is unsuitable.
“We are fully committed to the F-35 as a cornerstone of the US Air Force’s fighter fleet and look forward to forging stronger relationships with countries that wish to work alongside us,” the secretary said by Air Force Acting John Roth in a statement.
Other bases vying to host the Foreign Military Sales Training Center include Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado; Hulman Field in Indiana; and Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas.
The Michigan congressional delegation and Macomb County elected officials have sought new aircraft deployments to Selfridge in an effort to secure its long-term future. The Air Force has made several attempts to pull out some of the A-10 Warthog planes that are the backbone of the base’s mission, but lawmakers have insisted they continue to fly.
In a dazzling statement, Senator Gary Peters of the Township of D-Bloomfield criticized the choice.
“There are a lot of important and unanswered questions about how and why the Air Force made this decision. I have repeatedly called for a decision based on fairness and merit, and I demand answers and full transparency from the Air Force and the Biden administration as to why the base is the Selfridge Air National Guard was not chosen, ”said Peters.
“There is no doubt that Selfridge has established itself as the clear choice to host a new training mission due to its facilities, capabilities and assets for our national security, and I question the conclusion to which the Air Force has arrived. “
Had Selfridge been chosen, the first contingent would have involved around 150 families from Singapore moving to Michigan and living in the community, with pilots rotating for training, according to Phillip Ulmer, spokesman for the 127th Wing at Selfridge.
A delegation from the Singapore Air Force traveled to Selfridge in late March to tour the base, Ulmer said, and met Michigan Adjutant General Major General Paul Rogers and the commander of the Air National Guard, Brigadier. General Bryan Teff, as well as local officials. Governor Gretchen Whitmer addressed the group through Zoom, he said.
Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said she “strongly disagrees” with the decision and said she will demand answers on how it was made.
“Selfridge has the personnel, the airspace and the facilities, and was the most cost effective choice to host these F-35 training missions,” she said in a statement. “Selfridge has already been assessed by the Air Force as a location that could support the F-35 in a previous base. Ultimately – that decision just doesn’t matter.”
The Air Force did not explain why the Fort Smith location was chosen in a press release announcing the decision, and a Thursday night investigation by The Detroit News was not immediately answered.
The Air Force move is expected to boost the economy of the Fort Smith area by up to $ 1 billion, according to the local newspaper, the Southwest Times Record.
Macomb County Director Mark Hackel told the Detroit News the Air Force’s reasoning for not choosing Selfridge was an “apology” and said he was “optimistic there was still a chance to reverse this decision “when the military hears from the leaders of Congress.
Even though the decision is not changed, Hackel said he was not concerned about the base’s long-term viability. Selfridge is backing up the Air Force in “the rare event” that Fort Smith’s location is deemed inappropriate, he said.
“There is no question that this facility is of value to the Air Force. It is pretty much locked down for something in the future,” Hackel said. “Something is going to happen around here.”
Michigan lawmakers in Congress had written to Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth, urging him to choose Selfridge for the international training center.
They said Selfridge would be able to house and operate up to 24 F-35 planes immediately, “with a lot of unused space on the scene to expand and house additional planes.”
The delegation also noted that the Air Force had already completed a recent environmental impact assessment for the installation of up to 18 F-35As at Selfridge, which would save time and effort. ‘silver.
The study was carried out because Selfridge, which currently hosts A-10 fighter and KC-135 tanker missions, was vying in 2017 to store and maintain the F-35A, manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp. Selfridge lost to Dannelly Field Air Ranger Station in Montgomery, Alabama, and Truax Air Ranger Station in Madison, Wisconsin, for this mission.
Selfridge has sought to house F-35As because the Air Force wants to withdraw the A-10 fighters, which were originally built during the Cold War to attack Soviet tank columns if they ever invaded the Western Europe – something that never happened. Instead, the ground attack aircraft was used to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In December, the Air Force wanted to withdraw 44 of the 281 A-10s in service, according to Defense News. But members of the House and Senate protected the Warthog in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2021, ensuring they would continue to fly.
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