For the second time in 14 months, Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Macomb County has lost the opportunity to house the Air Force’s premier jet fighter, the F-35, and for the second time Michigan officials are outraged at the decision.
When Selfridge was named months ago as one of five finalists for the Pentagon’s newest F-35 training center, lawmakers and business leaders hoped for a big boost to the Macomb economy and the base’s status.
But the Air Force brass announced this week that they have chosen the Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith, Ark., as the site for the center. Located at the Oklahoma border, the Fort Smith area is expected to receive a $1 billion jolt, according to one estimate.
Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the decision was confounding as “there’s no question Selfridge stood out as the clear choice.”
“I’m demanding answers and full transparency from the Air Force and Biden administration about why Selfridge Air National Guard Base was not chosen,” Peters said.
The flight center will eventually host 36 of the F-35s and provide training on a rotating basis for hundreds of pilots from four U.S. allied nations — Singapore, Poland, Switzerland and Finland. The families of the student-airmen will live in the area during these training sessions.
Peters’ Democratic colleague, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, also blasted the choice of locations: “Selfridge has the personnel, the airspace and the facilities, and was the most cost-effective choice to host these F-35 training missions. Selfridge was already evaluated by the Air Force as a location that could support the F-35 in a previous basing. Bottom line — this decision simply does not add up.”
That previous evaluation of Selfridge, located on the Lake St. Clair shoreline in Harrison Township, came nearly four years ago when the base was one of five finalists to house a squad of 18 F-35A aircraft.
At the time, Macomb County officials had launched an all-out community relations campaign in support of landing the F-35 project, and a study produced by the Michigan Defense Center based in Sterling Heights made the case that Selfridge would be an “ideal” location.
When the Air Force initially announced in December 2017 that Selfridge had lost out to bases in Wisconsin and Alabama, the Selfridge command put out an extraordinarily blunt statement, calling the Defense Department’s decision a “bitter defeat.”
The press release also raised the specter that partisan Washington politics might have led to Selfridge’s snub. The decision was made final in April 2020.
On Thursday, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who had lobbied for the training center, initially offered a quiet response to the second loss for Selfridge.
“Being among the finalists for this international training program is a testament to the importance of our hometown airbase at Selfridge,” Hackel said in a statement. “We will ensure that Selfridge remains an important asset in our nation’s defense and global model for collaboration and innovation.”
But the executive then told The Macomb Daily that he was “beyond frustrated” with the Air Force’s choice, saying that the base is “overdue” for expanded duties.
“For the effort we put forth, there’s no excuse why Selfridge didn’t get it,” Hackel said. “There’s no reason at all. I find it hard to justify because it’s extremely questionable.”