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Michigan delegation pushes for new fighter jets for Selfridge

Washington ― Michigan's congressional delegation signed onto a Thursday letter to the secretary of the Air Force, urging him to replace the A-10 squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base with a long-term fighter mission that would ensure the base's sustainability.

The bipartisan letter, led by freshman U.S. Rep. John James, R-Farmington Hills, and Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, stresses the state's "unrivaled" four seasons training and manufacturing environment and "unparalleled" local support for the Harrison Township base, which supports nearly 5,000 jobs.

"The Michigan Air National Guard is poised to lead the nation in providing a cutting-edge, integrated force by leveraging Michigan’s unique physical environment as well as its industrial capabilities. We possess some of our nation’s finest and most innovative All-Domain training resources," the lawmakers wrote.

"Michigan has much to offer the Air Force and the Department of Defense — most importantly, willing, engaged, and unified partners, from the highest levels of government to the families who live right next door. ... Replacing the A-10 with a future fighter mission is essential to the ongoing sustainability of Selfridge, a cost-effective opportunity for the Air Force, and critical for the defense of America and her interests around the world."

The entire delegation signed on except for Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit. The letter indicated that lawmakers "stand unified" with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's pledge of nearly $100 million in state money toward improving the facilities and infrastructure at Selfridge, which the governor reiterated in a Jan. 12 letter to U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall III, also requesting a new mission for Selfridge.

The governor's office confirmed last month that the $100 million — which would have to be approved by the state Legislature — is part of an effort to get President Joe Biden's administration to select Selfridge to be the home of a new squadron of fighter jets to replace the base's aging A-10 Warthog planes that the military has wanted to retire for years.

The congressional delegation has for years lobbied the Air Force to base a squadron of F-35s at Selfridge, as it would help ensure that the base would stay open long-term and remain part of the community.

Selfridge is the backup base under consideration by the Air Force to house up to 36 F-35s while the service trains international student pilots and support personnel from Singapore, Poland, Finland and Switzerland. In 2021, the Air Force said it had tentatively selected Fort Smith Regional Airport in Arkansas for a planned international F-35 training center. A final decision is expected in the spring.

Prior to his Senate confirmation in 2021, Kendall pledged to retain and modernize the squadron of A-10s at Selfridge for at least the next decade, “into the 2030s and beyond." That led Peters to end his hold on Biden's nomination of Kendall to lead the Air Force.

The delegation's letter Thursday said it's "imperative" that next-generation fighter aircraft continue to be based in states like Michigan with "unique" climate resiliency over the coasts, which are more vulnerable to extreme and destructive weather events. James, whose district includes Selfridge, echoed this in a statement to the News.

“Our next-gen fighters are trending away from the nation’s heartland and industrial base toward the coasts. This leaves our strategic and expensive assets ever more vulnerable to both enemy attacks and the increasingly frequent and severe effects of climate change," James said.

"Furthermore, Michigan is already home to national defense complements, such as the United States Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, Fort Custer, Camp Grayling, and the number one manufacturing district in America. Investing in Selfridge Air National Guard Base is a logical next step.”

In addition to the letter, Michigan lawmakers planned to introduce resolutions in the House and the Senate this week honoring the history of Selfridge, which is named for Army 1st Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge — the first aerial military casualty during a demonstration flight with Orville Wright in 1908.

The resolutions say that Congress "reinforces the commitment of the military" to Selfridge as a facility key to the national security of United States and "encourages continued cooperation and dialogue" with the U.S. Department of Defense in support of the base.