The USAF has revealed its preferred locations for hosting the next Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II and Boeing F-15EX Eagle II units, marking a major boost for the US Air National Guard (ANG) and the air arm’s plan to modernise its fighter force.
In an announcement on April 18, the USAF confirmed that the Department of the Air Force (DAF) had selected Barnes Air National Guard Base (ANGB) in Massachusetts as its preferred location to host the next F-35A squadron. Barnes ANGB – which is co-located at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport – currently hosts legacy F-15C/D Eagles, which have been operated by the 104th Fighter Wing’s (FW’s) 131st Fighter Squadron (FS) ‘Barnestormers’ since 2007. It is likely that the new F-35A unit will serve as a replacement for these legacy fighters, given that the USAF is now moving to rapidly withdraw its ageing F-15C/Ds from operational service.
That same day, the USAF confirmed that two other F-15C/D operators – the 159th FW’s 122nd FS ‘Bayou Militia’ at Naval Air Base Joint Reserve Base (NAS JRB) New Orleans, Louisiana, and the 144th FW’s 194th FS ‘Griffins’ at Fresno ANGB, California – would see their legacy fighters all replaced by the newer F-15EX Eagle II – the latest and most advanced variant of the Eagle family to enter USAF service to date. “The new squadrons will consist of 18 F-35As at Barnes ANGB and 18 F-15EXs each at both Fresno ANGB and NAS JRB New Orleans,” the USAF said.
According to the USAF, the decision to host the next F-35A and F-15EX units at these respective bases “came after conducting site surveys at each location, assessing the location’s ability to facilitate the mission and infrastructure capacity, while accounting for community support, environment factors and cost.” These decisions come as the USAF rapidly moves to withdraw its ageing F-15C/D fleet, replacing it with a mix of Lightning IIs and Eagle IIs.
While the USAF has revealed these locations for the next F-35A and F-15EX units, a final decision regarding the basing of these squadrons at the preferred bases will not be taken before Spring 2024, pending the results of an environmental impact analysis of each base.