New F-35's will be a big upgrade for 104th Fighter Wing in Westfield
The Barnes Air National Guard base in Westfield, Massachusetts, is slated to get a new generation of fighter jets in 2026. Its commanding officer said the planes will be a step up from the current ones located there.
The 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard at Barnes currently has F-15's, which date back four decades and are due to be retired.
Col. David Halasi-Kun said while the older planes have been continuously upgraded, they don't have stealth capabilities.
“Without stealth technology, the enemy is able to engage the F-15 at ranges that put our air superiority at risk,” said Halasi-Kun, the commanding officer of the 104th at Barnes, adding that it's due to improved radar technology.
He said the new F-35's have "a very capable avionic suite, very capable munitions suite and stealth technology. That's the primary difference between a fourth-generation fighter that is the F-15 and fifth generation fighter that is the F-35."
The F-35 will be on hand for an air show scheduled for Barnes on May 13-14, Halasi-Kun added.
The F-35's will require $50-$60 million in upgrades to the military base. A new gate for the base and a new taxiway for the airport will also be constructed. Pilots and maintainers of the jets will also need to go through extensive training before the F-35’s do arrive.
Halasi-Kun made his comments Wednesday in a hangar on the base during an event celebrating the expected arrival of the new planes. It was announced last month that after a long process, the 104th had beaten out competition from other bases. Being able to replace the aging F-15’s should ensure the future of the Westfield installation for decades to come.
It also should protect 1,000 jobs associated with the 104th, which is big economic news for Westfield and the surrounding area. The airport itself, owned by the city, is also home to about 300 jobs associated with Gulfstream aviation. There are also other tenants including a restaurant in the civil aviation terminal at a different part of the facility from the military base.
The project is still subject to an environmental impact study.
One of the 104th Fighter Wing’s main duties is to provide air security for the East Coast on a moment’s notice should an airborne threat present itself.
This story is a production of the New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New England Public Media.