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Announcement delayed on base tanker finalists

Dec. 17, 2012 - 08:20AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 17, 2012 - 08:20AM  |  
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The Air Force has put off releasing a list of which bases are finalists to receive the new KC-46A tanker aircraft — a hot competition among bases anxious to avoid cutbacks or closure.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., issued a news release saying Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told him to expect the list Dec. 12, but on that day, the Air Force told him about the delay.

"Although officials gave no alternative date, Hoeven said the indication is that a list will be released sometime over the next few weeks," the news release says.

Air Force officials would not say what prompted the delay or when the list might be released.

"We plan on making notifications over the coming weeks but we do not have a specific date at this time," Maj. Megan Schafer, spokeswoman for Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, said in an email.

This is the second time the Air Force has delayed announcing which bases are in the running. In September, the service delayed the announcement until sometime before the end of the year.

Of the several bases being considered, the Air Force plans to ultimately pick 10 to serve as main operating bases for the 179 KC-46A tankers. The new tankers are meant to replace current tankers, which are among the Air Force's oldest aircraft.

In May, the Air Force announced the selection criteria for the tanker bases, which include hangar, runway, ramp space and other capabilities; proximity to aircraft that will need to be refueled; environmental requirements; and cost.

"Welsh said earlier that he expects that three bases — one Guard base, one training base and one active duty base — will be selected from the candidate finalists list by the spring of 2013," according to the news release from Hoeven.

The Air Force has made the KC-46A one of its top procurement priorities along with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the next-generation long-range bomber.

But the general officer in charge of the tanker program has said the Air Force may have to cancel its fixed-price contract if the $500 billion in automatic cuts to defense spending kicks in next year should Congress and the president fail to agree on how to cut the deficit.

Known as sequestration, the cuts would include reducing money for Air Force procurement by nearly $5 billion, according to figures released by the Office of Management and Budget in September.

That could force the Air Force to renegotiate its contract with Boeing for the KC-46A, Maj. Gen. John Thompson, tanker program executive officer and KC-46 program director, told reporters in September.

"I don't want to break my contract, and I'm fearful sequestration may force me to do that," Thompson said during a Sept. 18 Air Force Association-sponsored conference near Washington, D.C. "If I have to break my fixed-price contract, then I stand the potential to lose out on some of the great things that we put in this vehicle upfront."

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