The government has a huge investment in an Indiana Air National Guard base that employs about 1,000 people. The 122nd Fighter Wing next to Fort Wayne International Airport helps defend the world from global terror and a lot is depending on its success.
A formal review process designed to protect important government interests has started gathering details on a 200 megawatt wind farm project Renewable Energy Systems Americas wants to build in the Cass County area, where Logansport, the county seat, is about 75 miles west of Fort Wayne.
Turbines for the Harvest Wind Energy project would be about 600 feet tall, according to local media reports. And the 122nd Fighter Wing conducts training in the county four or five days a week.
Cass County documents show RES America Developments told economic development officials they expect the project would create at least six jobs. The project’s $335 million investment would be less than the government’s investment just in the planes at the Air Guard base.
A U.S. Air Force fact sheet on the A-10 Thunderbolt II listed the “Warthog” aircraft’s cost at $18.8 million. The base has been assigned 18 of them as primary aircraft, and has a few of them in reserve, for backup. The combined cost of 20 would come to $376 million.
When base leadership became aware of the wind farm project “we started looking into it because it does have a potential to possibly affect our training air space that we use, especially such space known as a 12-mile military operations area over by Cass County and multiple other counties where that’s planned,” said 122nd Fighter Wing Commander Col. Kyle Noel.
The MOA goes down to 500 feet, and “if they were to build wind farms that were to extend up above it, or even if they extended just below it, that could be problematic for us,” he said. “But we’re working with the company to find where they want to build them, how tall they’ll be, etc., to find out how much of an impact (or) if they will be an impact, to us in that training area.”
The Air Guard is in the early stages of a structured airspace analysis review process it is running with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense to identify any impact the wind farm could have on the 122nd Fighter Wing, and then put in place any necessary mitigation options, Noel said.
The unit’s pilots practice at medium altitude and low altitude; the low altitude can get within 100 feet of the ground.
“It’s dependent on the weather,” Noel said. “It’s dependent on the threat that we’re fighting against that will dictate whether we’re at a medium altitude, a high altitude or low altitude.”
If the 122nd transitions from the A-10s to the F-16s, they would still train at low altitude.
“There are some threats out there that we would ingress to the target area and egress away from the target area at low altitude or be forced to see the weather,” Noel said.
Any impact the formal review process finds the wind farm would have on the fighter wing would apply whether it is flying A-10s or the F-16s, he said.
Indiana’s senators and northeast Indiana’s congressman want the Air Force to bring F-16s back to the Air Guard base as they become available for re-stationing when F-35s are fielded elsewhere in the coming months.
U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Bloomington, and U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, sent a letter on the subject late last month to Heather Wilson, secretary of the Air Force, noting the 122nd Fighter Wing flew F-16s for 18 years.
“State leadership is aware that those discussions are happening; they’re working on it with our higher headquarters,” said Noel, who is not involved in aircraft basing decisions. “As of now we don’t have any news that we are going back to the F-16s. We have a proven track record in the past flying the F-16s; now we have a proven record of excellence flying the A-10s.”
If the 122nd was asked to transition back to the F-16s by the United States Air Force it’s able to do so right now as a base.
“We obviously have the infrastructure in place from when we were an F-16 unit in the past,” Noel said. “We have pilots that flew the F-16 that now fly the A-10 and they could easily transition back. We have maintenance people who worked on the F-16 and now work on the A-10 and can work on the F-16 again if asked to, so we’re ready to do that if that’s what the nation needs to support our national security objectives. However, our main concentration right now is whatever aircraft we’re assigned.”
For residents of the region who support the 122nd Fighter Wing and want to see that is has access to the best practice area possible and any other resources necessary for success, Noel recommends staying in touch with elected leaders, as they would on any other public issue that is important to them.
“I can’t say enough about the Fort Wayne community and the surrounding area and the support that we get from them. It’s just above and beyond,” he said. “Our members live, work, go to church, and grew up in this area and know everybody around here, so we have that unique connection with our community. The community loves us, and we love the community, and we can’t do what we do without them.”
Of the 1,000 people employed at the local Air Guard base, about 30 percent are full-time and 70 percent are part-time, traditional guardsmen. They are a mix of active duty, federal employees, state employees and contractors.