The KC-46A will replace the Air Force's aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers. The Air Force will select three bases from a list of nine finalists for the new tankers, which are expected to enter the fleet in fiscal 2016. (Air Force)
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A total of nine active-duty and Air National Guard bases are on the list of contenders to host the first KC-46A tankers starting in fiscal 2016.
This spring, the Air Force expects to pick three bases from the list: A training unit and two main operating bases — one from the active component and the other from the Guard, said Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.
The training unit and active-duty operating base will begin receiving the KC-46A tankers in fiscal 2016 followed by the Guard base in fiscal 2018. Ultimately, the Air Force will establish 10 main operating bases for the 179 tankers that it plans to buy.
For the training unit, the contenders are: Altus Air Force Base, Okla., and McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, according to a Defense Department news release.
Altus and McConnell also are candidates for the active-duty main operating base, along with Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.; and Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D.
The finalists for the Guard base are: Forbes Air Guard Station, Kansas; Joint-Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.; Pease Air Guard Station, N.H.; Pittsburgh International Airport Air Guard Station, Pa.; and Rickenbacker Air Guard Station, Ohio.
"The major commands will conduct detailed, on-the-ground site surveys of each candidate base," the news release says. "They will assess each location against operational and training requirements, potential impacts to existing missions, housing, infrastructure, and manpower. Additionally, they will develop cost estimates to bed down the KC-46A for each candidate base."
Lawmakers representing the states that are home to the nine contenders issued news statements on Wednesday:
• "This is a big step in the right direction. Fairchild has been a historic part of our nation's aerial refueling effort and is well positioned to achieve global-level reach to the emerging Asia-Pacific Theater," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
• "Strategically positioned in the heart of the United States, the location, capacity and mission of McConnell and Forbes make both bases exceptionally equipped to provide air mobility globally at a moment's notice," said Jerry Moran, R-Kansas.
• "Altus AFB has the capacity and community support to meet the criteria outlined by the Air Force, and the KC-46A would be a great fit with the existing programs at Altus," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, Okla.
• "This is welcome news for Pease and the 157th Air Refueling Wing, which provides the best tanker support in the Air National Guard," said Sens Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
But Republican Congressman C.W. Bill Young, of Florida, was bitterly disappointed that MacDill Air Force Base did not make the list of finalists.
Young, chairman of the appropriation's committee subcommittee on defense, said he has told Air Force officials time and again why MacDill should host the tankers. While he was never given a "firm commitment" he also never heard "anything that said MacDill wasn't even in the running."
"I told Gen. Welsh that I felt like I had been misled over these many years as we developed this program," he told Air Force Times.
However, Young said he was assured that MacDill would continue to have tankers "for generations" and would be a contender for the KC-Y tanker, which would follow the KC-46A.