AURORA | Aurora Congressman Mike Coffman said if Buckley Air Force Base is not awarded new F-35 fighter jets, the base would likely lose its Air National Guard unit someday.
“If we don’t get them, we will lose the runway. It’s only the fighter aircraft of the 140th Wing Colorado Air National Guard that require us to have an active runway at Buckley,” he said. “It affects the longterm health of (the) base when we’re looking at base closures.”
That’s why Coffman said he spearheaded the Colorado congressional delegation’s letter to Deborah Lee James, the Secretary of the Air Force June 13, urging her to pick Buckley Air Force Base as the home of the new, exorbitantly costly fighter planes.
Buckley AFB is one of 18 bases nationwide being considered for the next round of F-35 fighter jets, the Air Force’s newest fighter to replace legacy planes such as Buckley’s F-16s. If selected this summer, the base would receive the new jets by 2022, Buckley officials say.
The letter highlights how Buckley stands out in the four categories the Air National Guard will evaluate the base on: mission, cost, capacity and environment.
“This squadron has served our nation’s interest both at home and abroad for nearly 100 years, and has deployed seven times since Sept. 11 in support of operations in the Middle East,” the letter states of Buckley’s 120th Fighter Squadron, a unit of the Colorado Air National Guard 140th Wing.
The letter touts the fighter squadron’s capabilities that include air-to-air and ground-to-ground missions, as well as the base being the only one in the central United States to carry out the Aerospace Control Alert mission, which consists of a national network of fully loaded aircraft ready to protect the country on a moment’s notice.
It also emphasizes that $16.25 million has been invested in Buckley’s facilities over the past 15 years, and says that little new construction would be needed to house the new F-35s.
The letter states that Buckely is close to four different military operations that provide a wide range of training terrain—mountain, desert, rural and urban— and that the fighter squadron owns the airspace and has complete control over the training ranges.
“This includes their own bombing range adjacent to Fort Carson,” the letter states.
Lt. Col. Christopher Southard, F-35 project officer for the 140th Wing Colorado Air National Guard, told the Aurora Sentinel in May that Buckley is unique in being a sole user of its space, while most military air ranges have many users.
The letter adds that the 120th Fighter Squadron is the only National Guard unit to have a partnership with a nation in the Middle East.
“Additionally, the close and continuing relationship between the 120th Fighter Squadron and the Royal Jordanian Air Force is a critical strategic partnership,” the letter states. “Since the inception of this partnership over a decade ago, the 120th Fighter Squadron has provided their RJAF partners with key training in night-vision goggle operations, electronic countermeasure and SNIPER pods.”
The letter also touted that earlier this year city and state officials purchased a 124-acre area surrounding the base to stem future encroachment of nearby housing and commercial centers.
In addition to Coffman’s signature, the letter was signed by Rep. Ed Perlmutter, Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. Cory Gardner, Rep. Doug Lamborn, Rep. Scott Tipton, Rep. Diana DeGette, Rep. Ken Buck, Rep. Jared Polis and Gov. John Hickenlooper.
This is the second round of evaluations the Air National Guard is conducting to roll out the F-35. In 2014 the Vermont Air National Guard was chosen out of 83 military bases nationwide as the first Air National Guard unit to receive an F35-A. Coffman said this round, 18 Air National Guard bases are under consideration statewide and that the number being considered should be narrowed down to five by the end of this summer.
Coffman said Congressional delegations from other states, including Oklahoma, have written similar letters to the Air Force, advocating for the new fighter jets.
“We have to do all we can possibly do to get this,” he said. “There are not enough F-35s for all the state Air National Guard units that have F-16s to be replaced.”