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Air Force Base Jets

Truax field is in the running to become home of the F-35A jet. Above, an F-35 arrives at it new operational base on Sept. 2, 2015, at Hill Air Force Base, in northern Utah. 

The Air National Guard’s Truax Field is in the running for a new generation of fighter jet, a U.S. Air Force spokesman said Wednesday.

Truax is among 18 Air National Guard bases across the country that are being evaluated, said Capt. Mark Graff, an Air Force spokesman in Washington, D.C.

Being chosen for the F-35A jet would be seen as a measure of security for prolonged operation of the field on Madison’s North Side. In 2005, Truax was considered for closure — but spared in the end — as part of a national base realignment effort.

Another round of closures is expected in 2019, and aging F-16 Block 30 fighter jets, like those based at Truax and which can often be heard roaring across northeastern Madison, are among the oldest still in service. They have been retired as part of base closings elsewhere.

In 2005, managers at the adjacent Dane County Regional Airport discussed how they would replace the firefighting services provided by the Air National Guard and concluded that there could be substantial costs to replace specialized equipment if the Guard base closed, said airport spokesman Brent McHenry.

The Air Force announced in April that it was seeking two additional bases for the F-35A. The candidates were released to the Wisconsin State Journal on Wednesday.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Madison Democrat, said in a statement that she plans to continue to advocate for improvements at Truax, including the new jets.

“I expect us to be a very strong competitor,” Baldwin said.

Spokeswomen for the Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing couldn’t be reached for comment, but Graff said the Air Force will narrow the list of possible bases to four, conduct environmental impact analyses and make a final decision based on projected cost and several other factors this year.

The new jets would arrive in 2022.

“The basing criteria are mission (including weather, airspace and training range availability), capacity (hangar, runway, ramp space and facilities considerations), environmental requirements and cost factors,” Graff said.

“Air Combat Command and the Air National Guard will conduct site surveys at each candidate location as applicable,” Graff said.

“The Air Force is committed to a deliberate and open process to address F-35 basing,” Jennifer A. Miller, the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, said in a statement in April. “As we progress through the basing process, we will share information so interested communities are aware of what to expect.”

The bases being considered have runways of at least 8,000 feet and operational A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, F-16 Fighting Falcons or F-15 Eagles, Graff said. Currently, three active-duty bases and one Air National Guard base have been chosen for F-35As, he said.

Graff said the other 17 airfields under consideration in the current selection round were Atlantic City Airport in New Jersey; Barnes Airport in Massachusetts; Boise Air Terminal in Idaho; Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado; Duluth Airport in Minnesota; Fresno Yosemite Airport in California; Fort Wayne Airport in Indiana; Jacksonville Airport in Florida; Joe Foss Field in South Dakota; Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Facility in Washington, D.C.; McEntire Joint National Guard Base in South Carolina; Montgomery Regional Airport in Alabama; Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans in Louisiana; Portland Airport in Oregon; Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan; Toledo Express Airport in Ohio; and Tulsa Airport in Oklahoma.

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Steven Verburg is a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal covering state politics with a focus on science and the environment as well as military and veterans issues.