Despite months of opposition from community groups and elected officials, The National Guard Bureau continues to list Madison’s 115th Fighter Wing as a preferred site for the new F-35 fighter jets.
The finding comes in the final version of its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released today analyzing the effects of basing F-35 fighter jets in Madison — finding in line with a draft of the EIS released last year.
The informational website for the EIS says a final decision on which bases will receive the jets will not be decided until at least March 30.
The EIS evaluates five possible bases for the planes: Madison, Wisconsin; Boise, Idaho; Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan; Jacksonville, Florida; and Mongomery, Alabama.
Madison and Mongomery continue to be listed as the two preferred locations to receive F-35s. A preliminary draft of the EIS released in August 2019 also listed the two communities as preferential sites for the jets.
Opponents of the jets have said F-35s are noticeably louder than the F-16s currently stationed at Truax.
If Madison is selected, more 2,200 more people living near the base would be exposed to average noise levels of 65 dB. An additional 292 people would live in areas experiencing average sound levels between 70 and 75 dB where, according to the EIS, “housing is incompatible.”
And though the military has never said it, others in the community believe the base — which employs 1,200 people — could close if it does not get the next generation of fighter planes.
But there’s been a growing chorus of complaints about how residents will be affected by planes noisier than F-16s.
The criticism grew last summer when the Air Force acknowledged in its preliminary report that noise from F-35s could render more than 1,000 homes “incompatible for residential use.”
The final report naming Madison in the Air Force’s top two Air National Guard bases to get the new F-35A “is a big milestone,” Lt. Col. Charlie Merkel said Thursday. The other base is in Alabama.
It’s up to Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett to make the final decision, which members of the 115th are hoping will happen in April.
If the 115th Fighter Wing is ultimately chosen by the Air Force secretary, “the next major milestone is the aircraft actually showing up at our installation,” said Merkel.
That would likely happen in April 2023, when the first of the F-35s begin to arrive. All 18 planes are expected to be in Madison by May 2024.The fighter wing, which has been based on the east side of Dane County Regional Airport since shortly after World War II, currently flies 18 F-16 planes built in the 1980s.
If the F-35 planes come to Truax, Merkel said, the unit’s F-16s would be sent to other locations starting in early 2022. By October of that year, no fighter jets would be at the Madison airport. That means the 115th Fighter Wing would be without planes for about six months.
The 115th pilots would spend the time training on the F-35 at bases in Arizona and Florida and maintenance workers learning how to service the new aircraft. Truax Field will not be an F-35 training facility.
However, it’s possible the 115th Fighter Wing would continue to operate an “Alert” mission requiring planes, pilots and crews to be ready to fly at a moment’s notice, similar to the military flights on Sept. 11, 2001, when jets were scrambled within minutes following the terror attacks.