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148th looking to upgrade fighter jets

DULUTH, MN — The 148th Fighter Wing could soon be undergoing a massive upgrade to bring in nearly $2-billion worth of F-35 jets, also known as Joint Strike Fighters.

That is if a lobbying effort in D.C by the Military Affairs Committee takes off later this year.

The F-35 jets have been outfitted at many different Air Force bases around the country.

Col. Chris Blomquist, Commander of the 148th, says the F-16 is being phased out, as indicated by the hundreds of F-35s the government has been equipping Air Force bases with in recent years.

“It is the future of manned fighter aviation,” said Col. Blomquist, ” this (the F-35) is doing everything. Air-to-air, air-to-ground, and suppression of enemy air defenses,” he said.

The Military Affairs Committee will lobby, on behalf of the 148th, in D.C in mid-Spring in hopes to bring the state of the art jets to Duluth.

“They can’t advocate for themselves, they can only educate. So, we go out on their behalf to help advocate to get those jets here,” said Pat Mullen, Chair of the Military Affairs Committee.

Col. Blomquist said if they receive the F-35s, they would replace the F-16’s,  which have been on the base since the 90s.

“The internet started roughly 20-some years ago. That’s when the F-16 was developed. So, just imagine the difference in the technology between those two platforms,” said Blomquist.

He added while many upgrades have been made to the F-16s over the years, they are reaching the end of their lifespan, and it won’t be long before they can’t be upgraded any longer.

“It becomes too expensive to keep upgrading them, and sometimes you just can’t upgrade them any further,” he said.

The big difference between the two, the F-35 has stealth capabilities, whereas the F-16 does not.

The F-35 is also the most technologically advanced fighter jet on the market.

“It provides the pilot more situational awareness and keeps the pilot much safer in the aircraft,” said Col. Blomquist.

He added, “I think that our folks that would work on them and operate them would be much safer because it’s a better and more reliable aircraft. It’s state-of-the-art. It’s much more survivable if, God forbid, we’re ever called into combat, I would expect to get a lot more of my folks back if they’re flying the newest, latest and greatest Joint Strike Fighter.”

Col. Blomquist says the 148th has the largest and best airspace in the United States and is one of only 2 Air National Guard bases nationwide whose main mission is suppression of air defenses which is the F-35s specialty.

“So, between that, our people, and our location, I think that we’re a slam dunk for getting Joint Strike Fighters in Duluth Minnesota,” said Col. Blomquist.

Each F-35 costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $85-million.

If they were to come to town, the base would have to undergo renovations to accommodate them and bring in new training equipment.

The jets would be funded by the federal government, meaning it wouldn’t cost the 148th any money.

Essentially, the lobbying effort would be the Military Affairs Committee is selling the 148th as a good landing spot for the jets.

If the 148th is granted these jets, it would be about eight years before they would be 100% operational and personnel fully trained.

For two of those years, the 148th  would not be a mission ready unit.

Reporter Anthony Matt

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