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Klobuchar pushes F-35s for Duluth's 148th Fighter Wing

During a visit Tuesday, the U.S. senator said she and other legislators helped keep the base eligible for F-35s last year. Now, the Air Force needs to be convinced Duluth is the right place for the more modern aircraft.

Two people talking by a jet fighter.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar talks with 148th Fighter Wing commander Col. Chris Blomquist as he showed her one of the wing’s F-16 fighters following a news conference at the base Tuesday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., visited the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing on Tuesday, again pledging her support for upgrading its existing F-16 aircraft to the F-35.

The 148th, elected officials and local business leaders have long argued obtaining the more modern fighter jet will help secure the base’s future and ensure its 1,000 jobs and $96 million economic impact stays in the area.

If passed, a resolution would demonstrate local support for the construction of new hangars.

“It’s one of the reasons why we try to continue to rejuvenate this base so that we get the best technology and the best planes,” Klobuchar said. “And if we think planes are going out of vogue, or we don’t need conventional warfare, I think we don’t have to look much farther than what’s going on in Europe.”

Klobuchar said she and other senators worked to remove language in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act that would have made it difficult for the 148th to obtain F-35s.

With the base still able to qualify for the new jets, Klobuchar said attention must now turn to making the case within the National Guard and Air Force that the 148th has the necessary workforce and is in an appropriate location to host F-35s.

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Sen. Klobuchar talks by a jet fighter.
With a F-16 fighter as a backdrop U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaks about efforts to get F-35s for the 148th Fighter Wing during a news conference at Duluth’s Minnesota Air National Guard base Tuesday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

And there needs to be funding for the planes she said. That could be tricky.

148th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Chris Blomquist said the Air Force was looking to “cut a lot of money to recapitalize into the future, so it’s just a tougher time fiscally right now.“

For one weekend every month throughout college, Staff Sgt. Teagan Emberson worked in airfield management at the Minnesota Air National Guard base in Duluth where she provided pilots with updates on weather and airfield conditions.

But having Klobuchar visit was encouraging.

“It just really helps reassure the men and women of the 148th that we have the backing of our elected officials to ensure that we have a mission here in the future,” Blomquist said.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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