New fighter jet assignment for 104th Fighter Wing means job security, economic growth for Westfield
Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Massachusetts, is slated to receive a new generation of fighter jets and Mayor Michael McCabe said that's good economic news for his community.
The 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard at Barnes is scheduled to receive the new F-35 Lightning planes starting in 2026. They will replace an aging fleet of F-15's. According to the Air Force, the F-15 C and D models, the type headquartered at Barnes, first entered the service’s inventory in 1979. The Air Force has already begun to retire older F-15’s.
McCabe said securing the new aircraft will help to ensure the future of the base for decades to come. He says if the Barnes was not selected, "The worry was that we would have lost the 104th, which would have been a real problem for us, considering the number of different people who work, live and play in the city of Westfield that are from the 104th.”
And, McCabe said keeping those jobs in Westfield is huge for the city's economy.
"A lot of that payroll is spent right here in the city in our restaurants and our shops," McCabe said.
State Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, chairs the legislature’s veteran’s services committee and is a veteran as well. The 104th was in competition with other units for the new planes.
Velis said one thing the Department of Defense looked at in its selection process was how a given state treated members of the military and their families. He specifically pointed to the so-called SPEED Act which became law last year. It is designed to make it easier for spouses of military members to gain professional licensure when they move to Massachusetts and aims to make it easier to enroll their children in public schools.
“From day one the Department of Defense made it explicitly clear to us that they were looking at how states cared for military families in making this decision, and the SPEED Act ensured that we met and exceeded those criteria,” Velis said.
The 104th Fighter Wing is trained to provide around-the-clock protection to air space in the Northeast from any airborne threat and is capable of scrambling planes in a moment’s notice, according to the unit. There are about 1,000 people who work with the 104th, which includes traditional guard members and civilians.
An environmental impact review must be completed before the plan is finalized.