148th on list for new planes
The future just got a little brighter for the Air National Guard base in Duluth. The Air Force, in a long-term plan released Wednesday, announced that it's considering Duluth and 40 other bases as potential homes for the F-35A Lightning II -- goo...
The future just got a little brighter for the Air National Guard base in Duluth.
The Air Force, in a long-term plan released Wednesday, announced that it's considering Duluth and 40 other bases as potential homes for the F-35A Lightning II -- good news for base employees and city officials who may have feared for the base's future after it was announced that the F-16, its main aircraft, would be phased out in a decade or so.
Thirty-three of the bases, including Duluth, will be considered only for the F-35. The eight other bases will be considered for the F-35 or the F-22 Raptor.
"This is obviously great news for the 148th Fighter Wing, its members, as well as Duluth," Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., said in a statement.
Civic and business leaders, who have been trying to secure a long-term flying mission for the base since the 2005 base realignment and closure round, have said that getting F-35s could ensure the 148th's existence in Duluth beyond 2040.
The base is important to Duluth for many reasons, said Andy Peterson, the director of public policy for the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. It has more than 450 full-time employees and generates $90 million per year for Duluth's economy. It also providesfirefighters for Duluth International Airport, freeing up the city's Fire Department. Olson said any good news for the base is good news for Duluth.
"That's great news because that's the future of this base," Peterson said.
However, Peterson said he is skeptical that the Air Force will back up its plans with action.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," he said. "There may be a plan, but it's more important that it gets the funding."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said that while the Air Force's plans to bring new planes to the 148th doesn't alleviate all concerns about the base, it's still good to hear that the powers-that-be at the Pentagon are thinking of Duluth.
"The victory is that we're included in their long-term plan," said Klobuchar, who said she and her colleagues have been addressing the issue of bringing more planes to the 148th base for a year.
"The members of the 148th have an exemplary program," she said. "We've all been working hard to make their future secure."
Klobuchar said she would still like to see upgrades to the base's F-16s, which could extend their mission here as well.
Recently updated infrastructure, including a new maintenance hangar, means that the 148th won't require any major adjustments to accommodate the newer planes, Oberstar said.
"The 148th is a proven unit, with outstanding men and women serving in it. This decision by the Air Force is a credit to them," he said.
The News Tribune was unable to reach Sen. Norm Coleman for comment.