WESTFIELD — Years of intense lobbying by federal, state, and local leaders to see the Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing, based at Barnes-Westfield Regional Airport, receive upgraded aircraft, has paid off in a huge way, with the Pentagon announcing that 18 of its $78 million, latest-generation F-35 fighters will be based at the facility.
The F-35s, which will arrive during fiscal year 2026 at the earliest, will replace a fleet of aging F-15C Eagles.
The announcement was hailed by federal and state officials as a big step forward for the 104th and Barnes, and as a potentially huge boost for the local economy. Indeed, supporters say the decision to base the F-35s at Barnes will not only secure the future of the Guard unit, but provide a needed jolt for an airport that has an estimated total economic impact of roughly $235 million per year.
Barnes was among three Guard bases across the country contending for either the F-35 or the latest incarnation of the F-15. The other bases are in Louisiana and California.
In a statement on the Pentagon’s decision, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal said, “today’s announcement that a new fleet of F-35A aircraft will be assigned to Barnes Air National Guard Base comes after years of advocacy from the Massachusetts congressional delegation, state leadership, the adjunct general for the Massachusetts National Guard Gary Keefe, and, most importantly, the superb efforts of the dedicated service members at Barnes. Over the past several years, I have been in constant communication with Air Force leadership to underscore the importance of supplying Barnes with the resources needed to complete their critical missions. I am glad that, after years of ongoing discussions, those efforts have culminated in a positive outcome, one that will benefit the Western Massachusetts community for years to come.
“I have long advocated for the brave airmen and women of Barnes who support and defend us here in the Commonwealth and throughout the country,” he went on. “Their integrity and commitment to service has upheld the longstanding reputation at Barnes, one that is nothing short of excellence. We have an obligation to support our service members, and today’s announcement means that the men and women of Barnes will be able to continue their work for years to come.”