Congressman: South Jersey base will take new F-35 fighters
Burlington County Times
August 19, 2019
If Vermont doesn’t want the Air Force’s newest fighter jets, New Jersey will be glad to find a home for them in South Jersey.
Congressman Donald Nocross, D-1 of Camden, made that clear in a letter to the Air Force’s acting secretary last week that renewed the state’s push for the service to send some of the new F-35 fighters to the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing at Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township.
Norcross, who is New Jersey’s highest ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the newer jets are needed as replacements for the 177th’s aging 1980s era F-16s. The wing flies the fighters as part of its homeland defense mission to help defend the east coast from potential attacks against New York, Washington, Virginia and other targets.
“Currently, the 177th Fighter Wing supports our homeland defense utilizing the oldest F-16s in our inventory,” Norcross wrote in his Aug. 16 letter to Acting Secretary Matthew Donovan. “With such a vital mission at stake, defending our nation’s most vital government and economic regions, the Wing must be considered for an upgrade to the newest technology and platforms available — the F-35s.”
The F-35s are the military’s latest state-of-the-art fighter being developed by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. military and its allies. The jets are considerably stealthier than earlier fighter jets like the F-16s and also have enhanced radar and sensor capabilities that are expected to make them more lethal assets.
New Jersey’s congressional delegation lobbied hard for the 177th to receive some of the new fighter jets in 2016 when the Air Force was considering where to base some of the first batches of the new fighters. The wing and its base at Atlantic City International was among 18 Guard installations that were considered but the Air Force wound up selecting bases in Wisconsin and Alabama.
The decision was a blow for the 177th and cast some doubts on the wing’s future in the event of a future round of base closures, although the Air Force has invested both in infrastructure improvements at the wing’s airfield and in upgraded radar systems for the 22 F-16s based there.
Ironically, the Air Force announced its decision to pass over the 177th around the same time it opted to locate some of the first new KC-46 mid-air refueling tankers at Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst, a decision that is expected to preserve the installation’s air mobility mission for the foreseeable future.
Norcross’ letter was sent in the wake of a still brewing a controversy in Vermont surrounding the impending arrival of 18 of the new fighter jets at the New England state’s 158th Fighter Wing based at Burlington International Airport.