WESTFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A new fleet of F-35 aircraft is making its way to Barnes Air National Guard Base and military as well as legislative leaders alike are celebrating!

It’s been a long-time coming following an intense selection process by the U.S. Air Force. The 104th fighter wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base will house a total of 18 F-35 fighter jets by the year 2026. The announcement was made a few weeks ago, but officially celebrated by Congressman Richard Neal, municipal leaders and the 104th fighter wing at Barnes Wednesday morning.

“If there’s any enemy of the United States that wants to attack this country, we are the first point of contact they will have,” said 104th Commander Col. David Halasi-Kun.

F-35 jets, the most advanced tool to be used in carrying out this mission. These fighters use stealth technology for enhanced threat responses. The F-35s are smaller than F-15s, have a single engine and the most advanced sensors. F-15’s have been used for years and have certainly served their purpose, but these F-35’s are the future of the 104th Fighter Wing.

“We’ve been flying the fighter since 1947, getting an F-35 announcement means we’re going to be flying fighters for another 40 or 50 years at a minimum,” said Col. Halasi-Kun.

This not only secures a spot for Barnes in our nation’s air defense but also brings a major economic boost to western Massachusetts.

“Economic impacts on the military and civilian combined, 2100 jobs, $236 million a year in economic impact,” said Barnes Airport Manager Christopher Willenborg.

Over the next three years, some adjustments will be made at the base to get ready for these jets, along with personnel training.

“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. The announcement on April 18th 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,” said Congressman Neal in a news release sent to 22News from the Office of Congressman Richard Neal.

“This is just a good fit,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Gary W. Keefe, Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard. “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.”

“This decision validates the Wing’s exceptional performance,” said Air Force Col. David L. “Moon” Halasi-Kun, Commander of the 104th Fighter Wing. “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 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,” said State Senator Velis. “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.”