Duluth News Tribune

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., visited the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing on Tuesday, again pledging her support for upgrading its existing F-16 aircraft to the F-35.

The 148th, elected officials and local business leaders have long argued obtaining the more modern fighter jet will help secure the base’s future and ensure its 1,000 jobs and $96 million economic impact stays in the area.

“It’s one of the reasons why we try to continue to rejuvenate this base so that we get the best technology and the best planes,” Klobuchar said. “And if we think planes are going out of vogue, or we don’t need conventional warfare, I think we don’t have to look much farther than what’s going on in Europe.”

Klobuchar said she and other senators worked to remove language in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act that would have made it difficult for the 148th to obtain F-35s.

With the base still able to qualify for the new jets, Klobuchar said attention must now turn to making the case within the National Guard and Air Force that the 148th has the necessary workforce and is in an appropriate location to host F-35s.

And there needs to be funding for the planes she said. That could be tricky.

148th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Chris Blomquist said the Air Force was looking to “cut a lot of money to recapitalize into the future, so it’s just a tougher time fiscally right now.“

But having Klobuchar visit was encouraging.

“It just really helps reassure the men and women of the 148th that we have the backing of our elected officials to ensure that we have a mission here in the future,” Blomquist said.