General: No current plans to close Massachusetts air bases

BOSTON (State House News Service) – Those who depend on U.S. Air Force bases in Chicopee and Bedford can count on continuing operations at those facilities, according to a top Air Force general.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson, who commands the “total life cycle management of Air Force weapon systems,” met with Gov. Charlie Baker and other state officials on Monday. After the meeting he said Westover and Hanscom Air Force bases will stay in place for the near future.

“Currently there’s absolutely no plans to closing any of the air bases in Massachusetts or any part of New England. Hanscom Air Force Base is one of the most critical installations in the United States Air Force,” Thompson told reporters after the private meeting on the fourth floor of the State House. He said, “In terms of our current United States Air Force profile across New England, I don’t think you have anything to worry about in the short term.”

Thompson said he’s not sure whether there will be another base realignment and closure (BRAC) effort. “I do not know right now whether there will be another BRAC or not,” he said.

Major General Scott Rice, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, said he believes the state and military installations across the state are more interconnected than elsewhere in the country.

“I knew how closely the state works with the federal government, particularly with the Air Force, but I didn’t know the depth of it across workforce development, business development, infrastructure development at Hanscom,” Rice told reporters. “It’s across all spectrums, and how much we all work together with the communities here and how other places in the country are not so well connected.”

Baker said he met in Washington last week with Pentagon officials and discussed the importance of Massachusetts military bases, especially as technological sophistication plays a greater role in the military. Thompson is in town for a couple of weeks, with plans to spend time at Hanscom, the governor said.

Air Station Cape Cod, which conducts search and rescue operations and other missions, is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. Other New England states have Coast Guard and U.S. Navy bases.

Thompson said the most important consideration for the Air Force is the mission undertaken by an air base rather than its location relative to another base.

At Hanscom, the Air Force acquires technology for aircraft, operations and cyber defense – a major concern given recent hacks into the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

“We also do a lot of other important things, but for the most part, we don’t fly planes,” an explanation on the base’s website reads. “More than 99 percent of the air traffic at the adjacent Hanscom Field is non-military.”

Westover is more active on flying missions. According to its website, Westover is the “nation’s largest Air Force Reserve base, and is home to more than 5,500 military and civilian workers.”

The 337th Airlift Squadron is the flying unit at Westover, operating the C-5B Galaxy, an airplane that according to the Air Force is the largest airlifter it has and is capable of carrying 270,000 pounds of cargo, and could fly from Delaware to Turkey with 120,000 pounds without refueling.

Westover actually expanded during a round of base closures and realignment in 2005, and it has a “fleet of 16 assigned C-5 Galaxy.”

Naval Air Station South Weymouth was included on a previous commission’s closure list in 1995 and the base officially closed Sept. 30, 1997, according to a historical page maintained by the town of Weymouth. The land is now under development for a residential community known as SouthField.

On the question of arming military service members who work outside of military installations, Thompson said any change in policy would likely depend on the specific sites where those military members work.

“There is a considerable amount of debate going on within the Department of Defense on that right now, but how it will turn out – my guess is it depends upon what those folks are doing, where they are, what the threat is in that area and what service they belong to,” Thompson said.

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