By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Air National Guard unit based in Madison has been awarded a squadron of F-35 fighter jets, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Wednesday.
The proposal to place the jets with the Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing has divided opinion in Madison in the past three years. Many people who live near the airport contend the resulting noise and pollution will lessen their quality of life and value of their homes. The Air Force said in a preliminary report that noise from the F-35s could make more than 1,000 homes “incompatible for residential use.”
Supporters argued that concerns over the noise are overblown and there won’t be much difference from the current F-16s. Advocates said having the new jets will bring jobs and ensure the future of the base in Madison, which employs about 1,200 people. The first of the jets are expected to arrive in 2023, and all 18 will be in place by 2024.
Madison’s City Council passed a resolution opposing the jets, but the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce has been a vocal supporter. The chamber, which represents businesses in Madison, said the Air National Guard wing has a $100 million annual economic impact on the community.
“The new fighters will help maintain U.S. air superiority and keep our state and country safe and secure,” Johnson said in a statement. “The F-35s will also ensure the Air National Guard continues to play an important role in Wisconsin’s communities and economy.”
Johnson also said having the F-35s in Wisconsin will be a “critical upgrade” that will allow for replacing aging F-16 fighter jets.
Wisconsin’s Air National Guard unit was one of five under consideration to receive the jets. They will be housed at Truax Field, next to Madison’s civilian Dane County Regional Airport.
The other bases considered were in Boise, Idaho; Harrison Township, Michigan; Jacksonville, Florida; and Montgomery, Alabama. Since 2019, Madison and the site in Alabama were named as the preferred locations.