Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington has been selected to receive 12 additional KC-135 refueling aircraft, which will bring the number of Stratotankers there to 59.
The KC-135s will begin arriving from McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas in fiscal 2020, Air Mobility Command said in a Tuesday release. Fairchild’s fleet of Stratotankers is shared by the 92nd Air Refueling Wing and the 141st Air Refueling Wing at the base.
The base was chosen after strategic basing and environmental studies due to its location, high demand for air refueling in the area, and lower construction and renovation costs, AMC said. The Air Force said in 2017 that Fairchild was its first choice to house the tankers, but it also considered MacDill Air Force Base in Florida as an alternative.
“Fairchild is the perfect fit for these new tankers because of our demonstrated capability to provide responsive air refueling across the globe,” Col. Derek Salmi, wing commander of the 92nd, said in the release. “Through hard work and dedication, our airmen have established Fairchild as the Air Refueling Center of Excellence, and we will continue to carry forth this legacy as the world’s largest tanker wing.”
The decision on the KC-135s comes at a time when the Air Force is delaying the retirement of some Stratotankers, due to delays in the delivery of the new KC-46 Pegasus. Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, head of U.S. Transportation Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that he intended to keep 28 Stratotankers, which first entered service when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House, beyond their planned retirement dates. That, he said, will ensure some bases aren’t left with a capability gap while waiting for the Pegasus. The KC-46 has been plagued by delays, and the Air Force has twice halted deliveries of it after the discovery of foreign object debris inside the new tanker.
Fairchild plans to reactivate its 97th Air Refueling Squadron, as well as an unnamed maintenance unit, to handle the Stratotankers. Fairchild is not sure exactly how many airmen will be added to its force to handle the tankers, but the release said that about 1,000 additional airmen and family members combined are expected to move to the Spokane region.
Col. Russell Davis, 92nd Operations Group Commander, said the Air Force Personnel Center has already started increasing Fairchild’s aircrew numbers to prepare for the reactivation of the 97th. With that additional temporary manning, the wing will start looking for airmen to move to the 97th and complete its rebuilding.
“We will be making these decisions in such a way as to not diminish the existing combat capability of our existing three air refueling squadrons,” Davis said.
Davis also said increasing the number of KC-135s in the Pacific Northwest region will allow the wings to respond hours, or even days, faster if a crisis develops.