WESTFIELD — U.S. Rep. Richard Neal joined Maj. Gen. Gary Keefe, adjutant general for the Massachusetts National Guard; Col. David Halasi-Kun, base commander for the 104th Fighter Wing; and state Sen. John Velis on Wednesday to celebrate the recent announcement that Barnes Air National Guard Base (ANG) will be receiving a new fleet of F-35A Lighting II aircraft beginning in 2026.
“Today is a good day not just for Barnes Air National Guard Base, but for the entire Western Massachusetts community, and the Commonwealth, for that matter,” Neal said. “The announcement on April 18 that the 104th Fighter Wing will be receiving a new fleet of F-35A aircraft comes after years of advocacy by the Massachusetts congressional delegation, state leadership, and the adjutant general for the Massachusetts National Guard, Gary Keefe. Most importantly, this announcement is a testament to the dedicated service of the brave airmen and women of Barnes, whose integrity has upheld the superb reputation at Barnes, an integral factor in this decision-making process.”
This announcement comes after a rigorous selection process by the U.S. Air Force that reviewed F-15C units throughout the U.S. and considered a multitude of factors, including community support, environmental factors, and cost. The review process also included an assessment of the location’s ability to facilitate the mission and infrastructure capacity. The assignment of a new fleet of F-35A aircraft at Barnes ANG guarantees the long-term viability of the base, ensuring the 104th Fighter Wing can continue its vital mission for years to come.
“I have long advocated for the men and women at Barnes who work to defend us not only here in the Commonwealth, but throughout New England and across the country,” Neal continued. “We are fortunate to have strong partners at the state and federal levels who recognize the significant role that Barnes plays in both defending our nation and supporting our regional economy. This announcement solidifies Barnes’s place in the Western Massachusetts community and provides assurances that our service members can continue their critical work for years to come.”
Keefe added that “this is just a good fit. The 104th has years of experience with the fighter mission at home and abroad, the community is used to fighter operations and provides tremendous support, and the base is perfectly located for defense of the homeland.”
Halasi Kin noted that “this decision validates the Wing’s exceptional performance. We’ve provided air defense for 40 million Americans in New England and New York, a population that produces roughly 30% of the nation’s gross domestic product, through the 24/7/365 no-fail Aerospace Control Alert mission, and our stellar performance was a big factor.”
The basing decision becomes final after favorable completion of an ongoing environmental impact statement on the proposal, upon which the secretary of the Air Force will sign a record of decision (ROD). The signing of an ROD is expected by the summer of 2024, putting in motion the stationing of 18 new F-35A Lightning II aircraft at Barnes ANG.
“The significance of the F-35A fighter jets coming to the 104th Fighter Wing simply cannot be overstated. This decision from the Pentagon not only solidifies the future of Barnes in our national defense strategy, but it will also bring transformative new economic investments to Westfield and our entire region,” Velis said. “From Congressman Neal and our federal delegation’s zealous advocacy at the Pentagon to our work at the state level with the SPEED Act to help Massachusetts meet Department of Defense criteria, so many individuals played a role in making this happen. Most of all though, this announcement is a testament to the incredible men and women serving in the 104th Fighter Wing and throughout our Commonwealth.”