WESTFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Barnes Air National Guard Base will be receiving a new fleet of F-35A aircraft, according to Congressman Richard Neal.

The base will be receiving 18 new aircraft in 2026. The F-35 was designed to replace aging F-15C and D-model aircraft used by the Air Force. The new fighter jets are considered the world’s most advanced multi-role fighters. Personnel is expected to increase by approximately 80 people including 15 officers and 65 enlisted military members.

State and local leaders said this is about five years in the making to get these jet to Massachusetts and is a major step forward for the base as well as the city.

Westfield Mayor Michael McCabe told 22News, “It’s fantastic for the city. I mean honestly it anchors the 104th with the city for the next 40-50 years.”

“It combines advanced avionics to detect and deter threats and then layered on top of that is the stealthy capability where we can avoid enemy radar both from the air and from the ground and hold at risk all enemy targets,” said Col. David Halasikun of the 104th Fighter Wing.

The 104th Fighter Wing is charged with ensuring the protection of New England and New York but also is an important part of the community in Westfield, employing about a thousand people. 22News spoke to people about how they felt about the announcement.

“It’s great that it’s coming to Westfield. I mean, Westfield has a ton of people here and just hearing the planes, it gives a sense of security,” said Patti Cupak of Westfield.

“It looks like they’re going to be around so it’s good for the economy too. Keep some of the local people employed, local businesses because everybody goes to the local businesses if you’re working out there,” said Todd Nashville, who works in Westfield.

There will be some F-35 aircraft featured during the Air Show this May.

Statement from Governor Maura Healey 

“I’m thrilled that Massachusetts 104th Fighter Wing was selected by the U.S. Department of Defense to receive the F-35A fighter jets. This is great news for Barnes and Massachusetts,” said Gov. Maura Healey, Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “It will keep good jobs in Western Mass, create new jobs, and spur economic development. This is a testament to Massachusetts’ strong support for our military, our economic competitiveness, our unmatched education system and our bright future. I’m grateful for the hard work of Senator Warren, Chairman Neal and the Massachusetts Congressional delegation as well as the Massachusetts National Guard to secure this result.”

Statement from Air Force Major General Gary W. Keefe

“This is a just a good fit,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Gary W. Keefe, adjutant general of Massachusetts. “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.”

Statement from Air Force Colonel. David L. Halasikun

“This decision validates the Wing’s exceptional performance,” said Air Force Col. David L. “Moon” Halasikun, 104th commander. “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.”

Statement from Senator John Velis

“The 104th Fighter Wing is one of the most accomplished flying units in our nation and yesterday’s announcement ensures that the 104th, and Barnes as a whole, will continue that legacy and will remain a critical part of our national defense strategy for decades to come,” said Senator Velis. “This decision is a testament to all the work that has taken place over the last several years. Specifically, last year’s passage of the SPEED Act signaled to the Department of Defense that Massachusetts is a trailblazer and that our Commonwealth is the best place for military service members to call home.” 

Senator Velis is the state senate’s chair of the veterans affairs committee. He told 22News part of the process to make the state stand out for basing decision was showing to national defense leaders how Massachusetts could not only support service members but also their families. That was shown through the SPEED Act which passed last year, allowing families to relocate more easily.

“From day one the Department of Defense made it explicitly clear to us that they were looking at how states cared for military families in making this decision, and the SPEED Act ensured that we met and exceeded those criteria,” said Senator Velis. “This assignment of F-35A aircraft will bring new and transformative economic investments to our community and will benefit all of Western Massachusetts in the process. I am proud that Massachusetts and the Legislature was able to play a role in making that happen.” 

Statement from Congressman Richard Neal

“Over the past several years, I have been in constant communication with Air Force leadership to underscore the importance of supplying Barnes Air National Guard Base 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,” said Neal.

Massachusetts has been fighting for new fighter jets for some time now. In June of 2022, former Governor Charlie Baker traveled to Washington to meet with Neal and the Secretary of the Air Force on receiving new fighter jets.

The announcement of new fighter jets comes at a critical time when some residents and lawmakers worried Barnes Air National Guard Base may close if it wasn’t up-to-date.

“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. 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 servicemembers, and today’s announcement means that the men and women of Barnes will be able to continue their work for years to come,” said Neal.

Also announced, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans and Fresno Air National
Guard Base, California, will replace their F-15C/D Eagles with F-15EX Strike Eagles.