Freshman Congressman Endorses New Jets for NJ Fighter Wing

By J.D. WATSON | Aug 06, 2019
Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen F-35A flight

Egg Harbor Township — With Congress on recess for the month of August, many members return to their home districts to pay attention to the needs of their constituents. U.S. Representative Jeff Van Drew began his district work period as he toured the Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing last week in an effort to gain a better understanding of the continuing needs of the base in Atlantic County.

Van Drew, D-NJ 2nd, said his visit was time well spent.

“This was an informative and in-depth tour, and one thing that became predominantly clear to me was the need for new jets at this location,” he said.

The 177th Fighter Wing has been located at the Atlantic City Airport in Egg Harbor Township since 1958. Due to its proximity to both New York City and Washington, D.C., the fighter wing provides mission-ready citizen airmen, weapon systems and equipment with rapid combat and support capabilities.

One large component to the 177th’s mission is to intercept aircraft that have strayed into restricted airspace. Given the base’s proximity to major urban centers, and perhaps the most restricted airspace in the country, the importance of that mission cannot be overstated.

And yet, the fighter wing is flying aircraft that is far from state of the art.

The 177th currently flies the F-16, an aircraft first introduced in the late 1970s. According to Col. Brian Cooper, head of the fighter wing aircraft maintenance squadron, the 177th is flying F-16s from the mid 1980s, aircraft almost 40 years old being maintained by airmen only half that age.

“Despite its coverage of two of the nation’s largest cities and a wide swath of the Atlantic coast, this is an F-16 squadron. It was passed over for the newer F-35 jets that have been deployed elsewhere,” Van Drew said.

The F-35, while newer, is certainly surrounded by more than its share of controversy. By the time it was first deployed, the development project for the F-35 – a single-seat, single-engine, all-weather, multi-role combat aircraft – was more than $160 billion over budget and years behind schedule. And despite deliveries being scheduled for the fighter through 2037, critics continue to question design flaws and performance inferior to aircraft intended to be replaced, including the F-16.

Still, Van Drew recognized the need to replace the aging F-16s and their increasingly difficult and expensive maintenance schedules.

“This vital upgrade should be expedited, and I will do everything in my power to make sure that this facility gets what it needs,” he said.

The 177th is a nine-squadron, 13-unit fighter wing. Van Drew noted the fighter wing rotates two pilots and four support staff in a secure building at all times, around the clock, to be ready to respond to any emergency.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.